DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) - Clothing is king in Bangladesh, a country that exports more garments than any other in the world except China. It is responsible for four out of every five export dollars and has turned factory owners into members of parliament and leaders of sports clubs.
That strength has often been turned against the workers in those factories, especially those who complain about poor working conditions and pay that can be less than $40 a month. A law-enforcement agency called the Industrial Police is specifically assigned to deal with unrest in factories, and labor activists accuse government forces of killing one of their leaders. Employees are barred by law from forming trade unions, even though Bangladesh allows workers in other industries to unionize.
Bangladeshis protest outside a garment-factory where a fire killed more than 110 people Saturday on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012. About 15,000 Bangladeshi workers protested blocks from the gutted fire Monday, demanding justice for the victims and improved safety. Some 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, the capital.(AP Photo)
Workers hope that could change following the industry's latest tragedy, a fire Saturday that killed 112 people at a factory that made T-shirts and polo shirts for Wal-Mart and other retailers around the world. But they have their doubts.
"The owners must treat the workers with respect. They should care about their lives and they must keep in mind that they are human beings. They have families, parents and children," said Nazma Akhter, president of Combined Garment Workers Federation. "Is there anybody to really pay any heed to our words?"