What Life Is Like For The Bangladeshis Who Make Your Clothes

Bangladesh factory slumRabeya holds her one-month old daughter Sumaiya in front of her slum house at Hatirjheel in Dhaka July 28, 2012. Rabeya works in a garment factory as a helper. She earns 3,000 Tk ($37.50) per month. According to Rabeya, she cannot save or send money to her parents as she has to pay all of her earnings to the land lord and to buy food.


death toll in April’s Bangladesh garment factory collapse has now soared past 1,000. It’s been called the worst industrial disaster in the country’s history.But it’s hardly the first. 

These disasters are becoming more common as infrastructure ages.

Meanwhile, working conditions and pay for the Bangladeshis who work in these clothing factories are hardly ideal.

Bangladesh has become the world’s second-largest clothing exporter, in part because companies have moved production there to take advantage of shockingly low wages and the lightest regulations in the world. 

Many U.S. and European retailers import clothing from Bangladesh, including popular brands such as H&M and Benetton.

The low prices we pay for these clothes are tied directly to the low wages and working conditions of the Bangladeshis who make them.

The garment industry is huge in Bangladesh, accounting for 80% of the country's exports last year. These exports total $20 billion.

The women pictured here work 10-hour days and make $57 per month. Assuming a 50-hour week, that's 29 cents an hour. The minimum wage for garment workers is $38 per month.

Source: Reuters

Western brands have been making clothes for cheap in emerging markets for centuries. These days Bangladesh is the place with the lowest wages.

Rosy Khatun moved to Gazipur to work in a garment factory four months before this picture was taken. She says she still doesn't know her salary.

Source: Reuters

Hundreds of workers are crowded into small spaces to produce the largest possible quantities of clothing for the lowest possible rent.

Bangladesh has labour laws in place, but they often aren't enforced. Many underage workers are employed at these factories.

The country's garment industry employs about 4 million people at 4,500 factories.

Factory operators sometimes padlock doors to the building to prevent workers from leaving.

Fires are a big problem at these factories, and locked doors can prevent workers from escaping if a blaze breaks out.

This man is trapped in an 11-story garment factory building that is on fire. The workers were eventually rescued.

Source: Reuters

On April 24, 2013, a factory collapse in Dhaka killed at least 1,000 people.

The scale of the disaster caused people around the world to finally pay attention to sweatshop labour again. Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney were among retailers who met in Frankfurt to discuss improving worker safety.

Two weeks later, disaster struck again, when a fire killed eight people at a Bangladesh clothing factory.

Last year, a different garment-factory fire killed 112 people. Here, the scarf of a garment worker is seen caught amongst the wreckage.

Throughout the past decade, nearly 1,800 garment workers have died in fires and other disasters, including the April factory collapse.

Living conditions are another big problem for these workers. Many of them live in slums.

Hosna Ara works in a garment factory as a helper and sleeps with her young son in a slum house.

Protests have broken out on the streets of Bangladesh as workers demand better wages and working conditions.

Garment workers clash with police in protests that can turn violent.

The protests are easy to understand.

How many more people will have to die before people care about the lives of those who make their clothes?

There is a better way ...

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