Bangladesh Garment Industry: Surviving the Rana Plaza Building Collapse

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". Today, in Bangladesh, hundreds of garment factories are up and running again. They'd been closed down by three days of protests over dangerous working conditions. Those protests were sparked by last month's collapse of a building near the capital Dhaka which housed five garment factories.That collapse killed more than 1,100 workers. Bangladesh is the world's second-biggest exporter of clothing after China and a source for many international brands. Since the collapse of that building, several Western retailers doing business in Bangladesh have signed on to a pact to improve working conditions there, but some American companies — including Walmart — are choosing to develop their own plan to address the issue. We spoke to two survivors of last month's Rana Plaza building collapse. They are twenty-six-year-old Mohammed Sonayman, who was in a factory on the sixth floor and twenty-eight-year-old Mili Akhtar, who worked attaching zippers to pants on the second floor. She told me how the day of the collapse began for her.

Mili Akhtar: [Speaking Bengali]

Interpreter: On that day I didn't want to go to the office. A day before the collapse a few cracks had developed in the building. That's why I didn't want to go there, but I had to go because if I was absent from work then I wouldn't get paid, so I went to the factory in the morning. I was so sure the factory would suspend production that I didn't even bother to bring lunch with me. Outside the building all of us workers were gathered outside. Many didn't want to go outside, but the factory supervisors and production managers assured us that there was no problem. We didn't want to work because of the cracks that had developed the day before, but the supervisors forced us to get inside. We were scared and I couldn't concentrate on my work. One of my colleagues who was working near me told me that the building cracks turned worse than the previous day. He showed me that cracks. As soon as I saw the cracks I got scared. I just took my Burqa covering and started running to get out of the building. When I reached the stairs the building collapsed. I fell on the floor and tried to stand up, but again I fell down. The main gate was open and luckily I managed to get out of the rubble. I got out of the building myself on my own. Nobody rescued me.

Werman: Mohammed, I gather you were stuck in the building quite some time — three and a half hours. Tell us what happened to you and how you survived.

Mohammed Sonayman: [Speaking Bengali]

Interpreter: We had worked for an hour. Then there was a power cut and the backup generator for six floors were turned on. Then it didn't take two minutes and all the six garment floors were smashed down to one, but some pillars and machines created gaps in a few places. That's where we survived.

Werman: Were you injured?

Sonayman: [Speaking Bengali]

Interpreter: A pillar broke on my foot, so I was injured. It did not cut me, but it did a bit. It mashed me and crushed me. I still have pain while I'm walking.

Werman: Did you have any friends or colleagues who were trapped inside the building?

Akhtar: [Speaking Bengali]

Interpreter: One of my cousins died, her body is still missing, and another cousin was badly injured. The doctors amputated her leg. She's still getting treatment.

Werman: Mohammed, whom do you blame for this accident and what should happen to them?

Sonayman: [Speaking Bengali]

Interpreter: The owners are responsible. I want the building and the factory owners hanged to death.

Werman: Do you blame the companies in the west for targeting Bangladesh 'cuz it has cheaper labor?

Akhtar: [Speaking Bengali]

Interpreter: We take whatever we are given as salary. We have to do hard work in the garment factory. It's the factory owners who deprive us. They are responsible.

Werman: Now that the Rana Plaza is destroyed, what will you do now?

Akhtar: [Speaking Bengali]

Interpreter: In a few days I'll have to work again. We are poor people. Whatever the situation is, we have to find work.

Werman: That was Mili Akhtar and before her Mohammed Sonayman. They are garment workers and two of the very lucky survivors of last month's Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.