Sabina left Thanapara Swallows in Bangladesh, one of our oldest producer groups, after her husband divorced her and remarried 6 years ago. Her two daughters, age 10 and 14, stayed in Swallows to be cared for by their grandmother. She saw them once every three or four months for only two days.
“I worked in Dhaka for five years. After Rana Plaza collapsed I moved back to Swallows. I was working on the 3rd floor. I hid under the cutting table. I was stuck there for 9 ½ hours with no water. A lot of my friends died or were injured. The building was not strong, the generator was on top of the building so it collapsed because of the shaking from the generator… I worked on the third floor of the building, when it collapsed I tried to save myself under the table. Then I started hearing the rescue team were coming. I realised the people on the 4th floor were being saved, and I tried to contact them to let them know I was on the 3rd floor. The rescue team were shouting ‘is anyone alive?!’ I climbed up to the 6th floor.”
Whilst the Rana Plaza tragedy was the story which gripped the news, full compensation has still not been paid (to see the names of these companies: http://www.cleanclothes.org/ranaplaza/who-needs-to-pay-up), and it certainly is not the only story of its kind. Factory collapses occur in a number of countries including Cambodia & China and Bangladesh has more than 1 fire a week, according to the American Center for International Labor Solidarity. Most of these fires go unreported and are exacerbated by locked doors, which is standard for many factories in Bangladesh. And whilst the 1,130 dead from the Rana Plaza Tradegy is a shocking figure, to me the countless injuries are almost more horrific. With hospitals far too expensive for the average garment worker, a severe injury removes any hope of leading an independent life, often leading to utter destitution (if they are not lucky enough to have a relative who can and will help).
Sabina’s 9 and half hours trapped under a table left her “afraid to go into any building,” and when asked if she would go back to Dhaka she simply replies, “No, I don’t want to.” She speaks of the friends she lost saying, “When I was saved, I started crying and looking for my friends, one man and one woman. I was looking but couldn’t find them. It was a nine story building and I had friends in other floors too.” Another one of her friends was in University whilst working: “Her dad didn’t know she was working in Rana Plaza. Some time I see her face and feel really bad, especially when I think of her Dad looking for her and not knowing if she is alive or dead.”
Such a system is completely unsustainable, not to mention morally insupportable. Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights says, ‘You can’t trust many buildings in Bangladesh. It’s so corrupt that you can buy off anybody and there won’t be any retribution.’
To support the victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy and bring about genuine change in both our, and Bangladeshi, society, you can support the campaign at http://www.cleanclothes.org/ranaplaza, buy from People Tree at http://www.peopletree.co.uk/, or donate to the People Tree Foundation at https://www.justgiving.com/peopletreefoundation, which uses funds to train tailors in the skills they need to make a real living, outside the crumbling factories of Dhaka.
Sabina has now returned to Swallows to live with her family, where Safia and Caryn Franklin, British fashion expert, conducted the interview.