21
May
14

For Bangladeshi Women, Factory Work Is Worth the Risks – Businessweek

For Bangladeshi Women, Factory Work Is Worth the Risks – Businessweek.  The following article is a Pro-Free Trade Article, which is trying to defend why its okay for Americans to buy from Bangladesh. I will not interfere with the article but I will put in my [ editor’s brackets] where it is appropriate.

From Businessweek May 21, 2014

For Bangladeshi Women, Factory Work is Worth the Risks

Akhter with her daughter, Riza, next to the shed they call home

Akhter with her daughter, Riza, next to the shed they call home

To give her daughter opportunities neither she nor her mother had, Nazma Akhter made the only choices possible for a poor, illiterate woman in Bangladesh [the only choice? She had children]. She fled her village, bolting the door behind her so her mother couldn’t chase her down. She moved to Dhaka, the capital, and began living in a shed the size of a parking space. She worked 12-hour days making jeans, T-shirts, and dresses, earning no more than $98 a month.

The income was just enough to allow Akhter to bring her family to Dhaka and put her daughter, Riza, in school. Then, on Nov. 24, 2012, a fire broke out in the Tazreen Fashions factory where Akhter worked. The blaze killed 112 of her co-workers. A worse disaster followed. On April 24 last year, 1,129 perished when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed.

For Akhter, who guesses she’s in her early thirties, the fallout from Tazreen has been severe. She unravels her sari to show the scar on her back from hours of surgery after she jumped out of the building, falling two stories, to escape the fire. She still can’t work. But she says she’d do it all again if it meant that Riza, now 10 and an excellent student, could get a good education and a shot at an office job—the girl’s dream. Nothing could be further from the life lived by Akhter’s mother, who still pulls stalks of rice in paddy fields. “God, she worked so hard,” says Akhter, whispering in the shed as her three children sleep in the afternoon heat. “My mother couldn’t stand straight anymore. I couldn’t live like that. I couldn’t make my daughter live like that.”

The paradox of Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry, where substandard practices have resulted in the deaths of at least 2,000 people since 2005, is that it’s virtually the only way for the nation’s women and girls to claw their way out of poverty and illiteracy. For some 3.5 million Bangladeshis, mostly women, the 10-hour shifts [it usually more like 12 to 15 hour shifts] spent hunched over a sewing machine offer a once-in-a-generation chance to better their lives.

“My mother couldn’t stand straight anymore. I couldn’t live like that. I couldn’t make my daughter live like that.” —Nazma Akhter

In 2011 about 12 percent of Bangladeshi women ages 15 to 30 [did you note the ages of what they call women? I wouldn’t call age 15 a woman] worked in the garment industry, according to a study by Rachel Heath of the University of Washington and Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak of Yale University’s School of Management. Pay was 13 percent greater than in other industries that rely on manual labor. Perhaps most important, the researchers found, 27 percent more young girls were attending school than before the garment industry existed. [Are you saying that there is an increase of just young girls (not boys) because the factory workers can pay for schooling out of their own pockets now or are you saying it is because there are many more city-dwellers than in agriculture due to this massive shift in population due to the influx of factories?]

Young as she is, Riza, a poetry-obsessed math whiz, understands that her mother’s job was an essential step in her family’s quest for security and prosperity. “Tell me something,” she asks. “Do offices catch fire like factories do? Because I want to work in an office someday.” [Yes, offices can just as easily catch fire in Bangladesh due to substandard building codes and enforcement, too.]

For Bangladesh, a nation dismissed by Henry Kissinger as a “basket case” after its violent birth in 1971, and which has since endured several political coups and uprisings, garment making has been a godsend. It now accounts for 6 percent of gross domestic product and last year made up almost 80 percent of exports. “Don’t forget that this industry has allowed Bangladesh to cut poverty by a third. Don’t forget that it has created milions of jobs. [That used to be American jobs].  Don’t forget that it has helped put more young girls in school than ever before,” says Gilbert Houngbo, deputy director general of the International Labour Organization, which has funneled millions of dollars in the past year into inspections of Bangladeshi factories. [I find the word “funneled” to be a strange choice of words to do inspections] “On the other hand, you can’t do that at the expense of women’s basic rights—the right to feel safe, to be safe, to have decent work environments.”

On a steamy afternoon, Akhter relives the day she almost died. She waves with her hands as she describes the smoke filling the air on her floor of the factory. She feigns a limp to demonstrate how her leg was stuck in a pile of bodies. Suddenly she starts howling, the memories still sharp. The cries awaken Riza as neighbors crowd into the shed to hear the story. The girl slips off of a thin sheet on the floor and starts putting things in her school bag, even though classes are over for the day. Three notebooks, a small box with a pencil, a sharpener and half an eraser, a book of Bengali grammar, and an empty lunchbox barely fit into her used Hannah Montana backpack.

Conclusion from the Editor

Yes, it is certainly a feel-good story that should warm the heart of any major industrialist. But before we start patting ourselves on the back for improving poverty in Bangladesh, just remember that the original reason why American jobs were moved to Bangladesh had nothing to do with improving the poverty level of Bangladesh, it was about making money. If the corporations had the welfare of the people in mind, they would have funded all their schools and radically improved their infrastructure – none of this has been done.

So, in reality, we are left with a 30 year old previously healthy woman, who is now permanently and totally physically disabled and with a bad case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to boot. Plus, she has  three children that depend on her support. The problem is obvious, Akhter is without a job, and gets no disability pay and probably has some enormous hospital bills (unless she sues, which is highly unlikely). She has no visible means of support, and is unlikely to find work or a man that will support her, ever. Yes, happy endings. This story makes me so happy that we shipped our American jobs to Bangladesh. Long live “Free Trade” and the World Trade Organization.

 

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2 Responses to “For Bangladeshi Women, Factory Work Is Worth the Risks – Businessweek”


  1. June 11, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Wow — very moving article, but it’s important NOT to forget that just because these women’s lives might be a little better than previous generations, it is NOT all right to exploit them and it is NOT all right for the rest of the world to forget about them and let the conditions in the garment industry continue as they are.

  2. June 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    I would have been more impressed with the article, and its author, if s/he (didn’t check the name) would have given readers a secure way to send Nazma Akhter some financial help. The cost of one T-shirt made in Bangladesh would help her family for a week at least, and it would barely faze most readers to give it to her.


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