Oxfam country director in Bangladesh, Gareth Price-Jones said:
“The Savar tragedy is a reminder of the hidden cost of cheap clothes. Controversy surrounding the garment industry is well-documented and in Bangladesh there have been some improvements in recent years. In 2010, the government raised the monthly minimum wage from 1662 takas (less than $22) to 3000 takas (about $39). Yet there is no doubt that this remains a dangerous, low paid and exploitative sector.
“While demands continue for the minimum wage to be increased to 5000 takas a month (about $65), many subcontractors already pay significantly less than the current minimum. Enforcement is painfully lax. Hundreds of thousands of people have few other options than to leave the countryside in search of jobs in factories and workshops in Bangladesh's heaving cities. It is people like these who are paying the price for the cheap clothes that now fill so many high street shops across the world.
“They pay this price by risking their lives working in unsafe buildings, for long hours, often in terrible conditions, for terrible wages. An estimated 35,000 people move to Bangladesh's crowded cities every week. A combination of poverty, greed, corruption and political interest leaves them incredibly vulnerable. This need not be the case.
“When it comes to the garment industry, as consumers we are involved and with involvement comes responsibility. We can make choices that will make a difference. So too can retailers. The easiest thing is to choose not to see the story behind the brands, but we can also choose to buy clothes that are the products of transparent and non-abusive supply chains. Retailers can choose to do the same, and can hold their suppliers to account – not least by ensuring they respect standard safety measures that protect their workers lives.
“Here, though, the problem is much wider than the garment industry. Construction of high rise buildings is everywhere here in Dhaka, but even the Prime Minister accepts that 90 per cent are not built to local standards, let alone international building standards that would be expected in an earthquake-prone country like Bangladesh. Oxfam is working to reduce the risk of disasters like Savar by working with architects and municipal authorities to improve building standards, and by working with communities to prepare themselves for disasters. With a major earthquake overdue, we are concerned that this terrible tragedy will be repeated on a far greater scale.”
News reports say that the vast majority of 3.6 million garment workers in Bangladesh are women and most of the more than 3,000 people in the building were female garment workers.
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For more information or to arrange an interview contact:
Jonaid Jilani in Oxford +44 (0)1865 47 2193 or +44 (0)7810 181514
Abdul Quayyum in Dhaka +880 1713 060 151
Juliet O'Neill in Ottawa 613 240 3047