“Do Americans want us to die?”

Aklima Khanam’s story is a familiar one in Bangladesh. She is among the country’s 4 million workers who stitch together clothes for the world’s multibillion-dollar garment industry. She was also one of the more than 3,000 workers who were in the Rana Plaza factory when it collapsed a year ago.

She didn’t want to enter the building that day. There was a crack. It looked unstable. But a quota of 24,000 pieces needed to be filled. And so, facing verbal and physical abuse from the factory’s bosses, and threats to withhold wages, she and her coworkers hesitatingly went in.

A few hours later, the roof collapsed onto the building, and Khanam was trapped under a machine for 12 hours.

“When I was crushed, I was terrified,” she said. “I didn’t think I was going to live anymore…”

Khanam now has a head injury, a chest injury and hip injury. Once the breadwinner in her family, she can no longer work…

More than 1,200 people died and more than 2,500 were injured in the collapse.

Like so many other workers and their families, Khanam has received no compensation for her loss, either from the government or the companies she made clothes for.

Though the International Labor Organization set up a $40 million fund for the victims of Rana Plaza, only $15 million has been raised so far. Fifteen brands whose clothing and brand labels were found in the factory’s rubble have not contributed to the fund…

The Rana Plaza building collapse was the final straw in the poor working conditions Khanam and her coworkers experienced…

Khanam’s been touring the U.S., speaking mainly to students – a demographic that buys much of the cheaper street fashion brands for which she made clothes.

If we don’t tell them, then how can they understand?” Khanam explained. “They are the ones that are buying the clothes that we’re making for them. They should do something for us as well. Do they want us to die in building collapses or fires? Is that what they want?”

The same quality of life and despair and poverty – as a premise of optimizing profit – has been part of the schmatta trade since the start of the industrial revolution. Sweatshops in Leeds and New York City, in Juarez and Tegucigalpa, Jakarta and Dhaka, are moveable feasts for ginormous profits. It is not unusual for for the wage paid for labor for garments made in this manner to be less than 1% of the retail price. It is not uncommon to encounter child labor, near-slavery working conditions.

Americans “benefit” from comparatively low prices – and rely on out-of-sight, out-of-mind to tune out the reality of the garments we wear.

3 thoughts on ““Do Americans want us to die?”

  1. angrymanspeaks says:

    How does one tell her that Americans really don’t care if she lives or dies as long as the clothes keep coming?
    How does one say that to a person such as this whose whole life and livelihood is based on such a vanity based product?
    That we are perfectly willing to let her and millions more like her die to keep us in jeans.
    That is the short story. Americans only care when it is in their face. Next week? Oooh! New Jeans!!!!

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