11 April 2005
The BBC reports that at least 17 people have been killed and more than 100 are feared trapped after a nine-storey factory building collapsed in Savar, 32km (20 miles) north-west of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Working conditions in Bangladesh's textile factories have long been a source of controversy. A lively debate on the topic took place in openDemocracy last year, with Anita Roddick calling for a campaign for accountability. Farida Khan agreed with Anita Roddick that working conditions in many Bangladeshi factories continued to be appaling, but differed with her as to the best way forward. Naila Kabeer, whose work on women's conditions in Bangladesh has been praised by the novelist Monica Ali and others, sharply criticised what she saw the fuzziness of Roddick's good intentions, which - she argued- didn''t pay due regard to the likely outcomes of campaigns. Kabeer wrote: What workers need is to know that it is possible to protest without the fear of immediate dismissal. There is a law to that effect in Bangladesh but it is observed mainly in the breach. Yet this is a fundamental precondition for the right to organise. I would suggest that if the goal is to improve women’s capacity to speak for and organise themselves, then high-profile campaigns targeting individual companies are not the best way to achieve it. International solidarity would have more positive and lasting effects if it were focused on providing human rights and other organisations in Bangladesh with the support and resources they need to publicise workers’ rights and to take employers to court when these rights are violated. About 1.8 million people work in Bangladesh's 2,500 garment factories. This most recent tragedy makes the debate ever more pressing.