By Marilee Karl, co-founder, Isis International

Isis International stands in solidarity with the garment workers, mostly young women, who lost their lives or were injured when Rana Plaza building in Savar outside of Dhaka collapsed on 25 April 2013. As of Sunday night, 5 May, the death toll had reached over 600, with thousands more injured. This article lists actions that are being taken in solidarity with the families of the victims, with the survivors and with the thousands of other garment workers who toil in exploitative conditions in factories in Bangladesh, producing clothes for American and European clothing brands. Please join in. You can also send information about other actions being taken through messages to the Isis International Facebook page.

The garment factories that collapsed in Rana Plaza were housed in the three top floors of the eight storey building. According to reports, these floors had been illegally added onto the building and were constructed of substandard materials. The immediate cause of the collapse is thought to have been the heavy equipment and generators in the garment factories. Workers had noticed cracks in the walls of the building before the collapse, but were told to go to work anyway (Farid Hossain, The Associated Press, Sunday, May 5, 2013). This tragedy follows the deaths in November 2012 of 112 garment workers in a fire in the Tazreen Fashions factory which manufactured garments sold by Walmart, Sears and other retailers.

These and other clothing manufacturers and retailers outsource the production of their garments to Bangladesh because the cheap labour and exploitative working conditions helps them maximize their profits.

Kalpona Akter, a former child laborer, and currently executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity says that: “In the case of these two recent tragedies, there is plenty of blame to go around -- from the Bangladeshi government for looking the other way at safety violations, to the incredibly dangerous circumstances workers face when they try to unionize, to the pressure factory owners and managers are under to turn out high product volume at low prices no matter what.

“It is the responsibility of the government of Bangladesh to make a sustained, concerted effort to rectify the dire situation. Strict, well-enforced factory codes and clear support for workers' rights are paramount to protecting Bangladesh's garment workforce.

 

“But more tragedies can be prevented only if the multinational corporations and retailers whose goods are produced at these factories are willing to stand up and do what is right.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/02/opinion/akter-bangladesh/index.html?hpt=hp_c4

 

Some manufacturers are considering pulling out of Bangladesh and the European Union is talking of imposing trade restrictions. However, Bangladeshi and other solidarity organizations say that withdrawing manufacturing from the country is not the answer. What is needed is unionization of the workers and pressure on the manufacturers to agree to strong safety measures

 

Support and solidarity actions include:

  • THE RISING FUND, created by V-Day to provide immediate emergency support for workers and their families.
  • Petition, created by Avaaz, demanding that Gap and H&M sign a tough factory safety agreement.
  • Petition created by the International Labor Rights Forumto Encourage Apparel Companies Producing Clothing in Bangladesh to Join Agreement for Fire and Building Safety

Continue reading for details and links to these actions:

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The Rising Fund

By Eve Ensler, V-Day Founder, and Monique Wilson, One Billion Rising Director

04/26/2013

V-Day expresses its strong support for the workers in Bangladesh killed when a building, housing several garment factories manufacturing clothing for American and European companies, collapsed on April 25th. The collapse of Rana Plaza building in Savar, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, has killed over 300 people to date, mostly young women workers - and has injured over 2,000 - with the death toll rising by the hour.

Huge cracks had been found in the building, and workers refused to go into the building to work, but were forced by the garment factory owners who threatened non-payment of one month's wages if the workers didn't comply. According to Khushi Kabir, a women's rights activist and One Billion Rising coordinator for Bangladesh - "I am so sick of the unnecessary murder of the workers, most of whom are women. This is not the first time garment owners have shown such callousness, nor the first time such tragedies have occurred. Despite High Court orders, no actions seem to have been put in place."

 Workers in numerous factories in Bangladesh, like many parts of Asia - suffer low wages, long working hours and no benefits. In various cases, they have been subjected to repressive measures and have to work in environments with almost no health and safety standards. Women workers are the most vulnerable of all - as they also suffer other forms of exploitation and abuse within the work place.

 This is more than just a building collapsing and the rising death toll. This is a consequence of a long line of exploitative systems in place that put profit and money over the value of human lives. This is the owner of the building who never got any clearance for the structure, and the relevant authorities who never questioned it.

This is the failure of the government with regard to enforcement of the Bangladesh National Building Code, provisions of adequate punishment and fines, and employers' negligence in taking safety measures which has led to continued tragedies such as this.  The RMG (ready made garment) sector in Bangladesh employs approximately over 5 million workers in Bangladesh, providing jobs, and contributing significantly to the GDP of the nation. The sector's contributions must not go in vain. The continuous exploitative system needs to end now, and it is the RMG sector that needs to come forward and act on basic fundamentals that do not violate basic human rights, and more importantly not lead to incidents such as these.

This is the concerted failure of all stakeholders today - the government, politicians, the garment owner.

But the chain doesn't end there. It is important to look at the American and European companies- whose production took place within those factories. Who pay starvation wages of 14 to 24 cents an hour to a Bangladeshi worker, in this case mostly women, who works 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. Companies who then pay less than ten cents for a garment, manufactured on the back of workers who are rarely provided extra benefits or healthy work environments, who cannot afford to say no because they need the money in order to survive. It is time that these companies look beyond, and ensure realistic payments, and standards - the margins in this case will not be lost significantly, neither will the business model collapse. This is where the idea of responsible business needs to begin. It is time for these global companies to stand up and act, and end the entrenched cycles of economic dependence in countries such as Bangladesh.

V-Day stands up for the workers in Bangladesh, and calls for the government of Bangladesh to ensure institutional systems that allow ensuring basic human rights of the workers. We also call on their government to conduct the monitoring and implementation of health and safety conditions in work places - and for them to be held accountable in their conscious violations of workers' rights to a safe, secure and healthy work environment.

V-Day also calls on the numerous American and European clothing companies who do production there: Wal-Mart,  Primark UK,  Joe Fresh,  Children's Place,  Cato,  Benetton.

For them to also be held equally accountable for the part they play in the continued exploitation of workers in Bangladesh. These companies exist where democratic systems are in place - therefore they must insist and demand the same structures of a working democracy - dignity in labor and full labor rights - the humane and dignified treatment and protection of workers. They need to be willing to ensure their role and contribution in ensuring proper standards for these workplaces.

Economic disempowerment is a form of violence.

 Severe negligence in the workplace is a form of violence.

 Exploitation of labor is a form of violence.

 No labor rights - is a form of violence.

 No human rights - is a form of violence.

We RISE for the workers who lost their lives - largely women, 18 or 19 years old - who deserved the most fundamental of rights - to live and work with dignity and safety. We RISE with the survivors and fight for their right to exercise their democratic and human right to work in an environment of respect, equality, safety, dignity and freedom. We RISE against the system that financially empowers the chosen few at the expense of the majority - and the perpetuation of the cycle of economic violence this keeps in place. We RISE against the hunger, poverty, exploitation and oppression that have kept the workers of the world in a perpetual economic prison- that have served and benefited the decision makers - corporations, corrupt governments and the ruling elite - at the biggest human cost - the people.

 We RISE for JUSTICE for the workers of Bangladesh.

 Eve Ensler, V-Day Founder, and Monique Wilson, One Billion Rising Director

V-Day has created THE RISING FUND, which will provide immediate emergency support for workers and their families. All funds raised will go directly to the medical and financial support of the families of the workers who lost their lives, and to the medical needs of the workers who were injured.

DONATE to The Rising Fund at https://secure3.convio.net/vday/site/Donation2?df_id=1941&1941.donation=form1&JServSessionIdr004=0b8jvm87u5.app333b

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Call on the CEOs of H&M and GAP to sign the building safety code

Forced to continue making clothes despite a giant crack in the factory wall, hundreds of young women were crushed to death when an 8-storey building collapsed on them last week. But if we act before the world forgets, we can salvage hope from this preventable disaster.

The Bangladesh government turns a blind eye to dismal working conditions, allowing suppliers to cut costs to make clothes at a pace and price that global fashion giants expect. When a blaze killed 112 people four months ago, many screaming in desperation at blocked fire exits, it got temporary attention, but little action. This time -- with hundreds dead and injured -- we have the chance to get companies to take responsibility for the safety of the people they profit from.

We can start with GAP and H&M, two industry leaders which parade their conscience. Workers have asked them to sign a groundbreaking, tough factory safety agreement, and if 1 million people strengthen their hand this week while the media focus remains on Bangladesh, we’ll place targeted adverts to get their CEOs to respond. Sign the petition, and send widely:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/crushed_to_make_our_clothes_n/?bqomqab&v=24682

The new safety agreement, drawn up by labour groups, has mandatory inspections and reports about suppliers -- it would even be enforceable in courts of the companies’ home countries! Perhaps because the agreement has real teeth H&M and GAP have so far refused to sign on. Two other companies have agreed to do so, and now it’s time to demand real action from these fashion giants. Full details of which companies were buying from the factory that collapsed last week aren't yet known, and while there's no evidence H&M or Gap had connections to the most recent factory collapse, there's also no good reason why they should resist signing an agreement that could prevent future disasters given how much business they do in the area. Getting H&M and GAP to sign would make it likely that other companies would follow.

Bangladesh is the new garment factory of the world -- H&M alone buys clothes from more than 200 factories because production costs are so low. They hope that a patchwork of private audits, plus training videos will be enough, but workers say that factory bosses are often too desperate to squeeze down prices to stay competitive, fueling a race to the bottom with subsistence-level wages and dismal safety standards.

Let’s move fast, before more lives are lost. Call on the CEOs of H&M and GAP to sign the building safety code, then share widely -- once we reach one million we’ll take out personalised ads to get them to respond:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/crushed_to_make_our_clothes_n/?bqomqab&v=24682

Time and time again, Avaaz members have come together to fight back corporate greed and violation of human rights. Last year, we helped 100 Indian workers safely return to their homes when a Bahraini corporation refused to let them leave. Let's rise to this challenge and stand with Bangladesh’s garment workers now.

With hope and determination,

Jamie, Jeremy, Alex, Ari, Diego, Marie, Maria-Paz, Ricken and the Avaaz team

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Encourage Apparel Companies Producing Clothing in Bangladesh to Join Agreement for Fire and Building Safety

On March 21, 2012, PVH Corp. announced that it has agreed to a landmark fire and building safety agreement with International Labor Rights Forum, Clean Clothes Campaign, Worker Rights Consortium, Maquila Solidarity Network, the International Textile, Garments and Leather Workers Federation and seven Bangladeshi trade unions and non-governmental organizations.

 We applaud PVH's commitment to a safe workplace in Bangladeshi garment factories and urge all other apparel brands and retailers that make apparel in Bangladesh to join the same safety program. Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers have died making clothes for U.S. and European brands — this is an atrocity that must stop. We count on you to help save workers' lives.

Writ petition Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) and Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) are presenting a to the Bangladesh Government: http://www.askbd.org/web/

The Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity continues to provide information and updates on the garment workers, even as the headlines fade from the mass media: http://www.solidaritycenter.org/content.asp?contentid=1639

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