Clothing was being made for The Children’s Place in the Rana Plaza building before it collapsed on April 24, 2013. Since then, the company has failed to pay adequate compensation to the families of the 1,138 workers who were killed and 2,500 who were injured in what was the deadliest tragedy in the history of the garment industry. As the 2nd anniversary of the collapse approaches, this compensation is long overdue.
On Thursday March 12, twenty-seven protestors demonstrating at the Children’s Place in Secaucus were arrested, including Mahinur Begum, a survivor of the Rana Plaza building collapse, and twelve affiliates of Workers United. Mahinur was only 16 years old when the nine-story Rana Plaza building collapsed on top of her, leaving her traumatized, jobless, and missing a toe. Mahinur had come to the US with Kalpona Akter, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, to continue the campaign to hold corporations responsible for this completely preventable tragedy.
Kalpona began working in garment factories at twelve years old and since that time has become a prominent labor leader, organizing to improve conditions in an industry critical to Bangladesh’s economy. Over 4.2 million people work in the garment industry in Bangladesh, 80% of them women; their work generates $24.5 billion in exports for the country.(1) “’These jobs are important,’” she said. ‘My very clear message: We want these jobs, but we want these jobs with dignity. There is no point asking for a boycott.’”(2)
A Union of Garment Workers
Kalpona’s activism resonates here at the Joint Board because, we, too, are a Union of garment workers, organizing for justice. From tutus to ties, we make clothes for distribution throughout the United States and abroad, and we know that when we secure strong contracts, it’s good not just for us but for the families and communities that we support with our earnings. As a successor union to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, we also know that when we fight for dignity and fair wages in our jobs, we are continuing the tradition that started with leaders like Clara Lemlich and the other women immigrants who fought for so many of the protections that we have today. Their organizing, both before and after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, galvanized the labor movement and was a powerful, transformative force in New York City and beyond.
Women Create Change
At the recent Women’s Empowerment Principles Annual Event, Kalpona pointed out that “Workers’ voices – especially those of women workers – need to be included and listened to, both on the factory floor where their rights to form unions and collectively bargain must be respected – as well as through agreements between unions and corporations addressing conditions in multiple factories.”(3) Listening to women in the workplace also means being aware of the overlapping challenges women face at work, in their families, and as members of a community.(4) While workers in Bangladesh have organized for on-site child care and maternity leave, here in New Jersey, we are working with a coalition that is pushing for paid leave so that workers can take care of themselves or their children when they are sick.
Justice for garment workers will come when we organize together to win the safe conditions and fair pay we deserve, and when we have strong union contracts that ensure the dignity of our work. This organizing requires meaningful solidarity from Dhaka to New York City, and everywhere in between. We are honored to have stood together with Kalpona and Mahinur – to show that we are organized and we are strong. And we will continue to fight until we win justice for garment workers and retail workers, from the shop floor to the sales floor.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Call Children’s Place at 201-558-2400 and ask to speak with Greg Poole, Senior Vice President of Global Sourcing: ext 37635. Demand that they:
a) drop all charges against the peaceful protestors arrested on March 12 and
b) pay the $8million they owe to the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse
Go to http://orphansplace.com/ and sign the petition demanding that Children’s Place pay up NOW.
1 International Labor Organization. http://www.ilo.org/dhaka/Informationresources/Publicinformation/Pressreleases/WCMS_240343/lang–en/index.htm
2 Greehouse, Steven. Bangladesh labor leader arrested during Rana Plaza protest in New Jersey. The Guardian. March 15, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/15/bangladesh-kalpona-akter-arrested-rana-plaza-new-jersey?CMP=share_btn_fb
4 See, in particular, these important pieces on the gendered impacts of the Rana Plaza catastrophe: http://lawatthemargins.com/workers-rights-in-bangladesh-through-a-gender-lens/ and http://lawatthemargins.com/aftermath-of-the-rana-plaza-tragedy-social-and-health-issues-emerge-amid-struggle-for-workers-rights/