Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Workers Set Factories Ablaze in Call for Decent Wage for Producing Globe's 'Cheap' Clothing

Bangladesh swept by a third day of protests that leaves nearly 150 injured 

Garment workers shout as they call other workers to join them, in front of Brothers Fashion Limited, during a protest in Dhaka September 23, 2013. (Photo: Reuters/Andrew Biraj)
Up to 200,000 garment factory workers sustained a third day of protests in Bangladesh on Monday, forcing hundreds of factories to close as the workers' call for a better minimum wage was met with teargas and rubber bullets from police.

Protests were held in the capital of Dhaka and surrounding areas, home to hundreds of factories that produce clothing that ends up stores like Walmart and H&M.

At least two factories were set ablaze by protesters, Reaz-Bin-Mahmood, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Agence France-Presse. The protesting workers also blocked roads and confiscated and destroyed rifles from security officials.

Resulting clashes with police left nearly 150 injured.

The workers, 80% of whom are women, have demanded a $100 monthly wage for their contributions to the $20-billion industry, and called the factory owners' offer of just a 20% raise "inhuman and humiliating." Their current monthly wage is $38, prompting one protester to say, "We work to survive but we can't even cover our basic needs."

When the protests began this weekend, Nazma Akter, president of the United Garments Workers' Federation, told the crowd, "Our backs are against the wall, so we don't have any alternative unless we raise our voice strongly," and added that "the economy moves with our toil."

Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh, lamented that “A one-day closure means a huge loss for owners.”

Agence France-Presse reports that
Bangladeshi textile workers are among the worst paid in the sector worldwide, and often toil for 80 hours a week in factories which are vulnerable to fires and other accidents.
Protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions are frequent but have gained in intensity since April when a factory complex collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people in one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

Despite the massive death toll from the Rana factory fire in April as well as countless, day to day, potentially lethal incidents at garment factories in the country, little seems to have changed in the working conditions at many factories.

A BBC investigation unveiled a factory where workers are still working 19-hour shifts and are locked in, and deceptive books "hide the truth about working hours from Western retailers."

Monday, September 23, 2013

US Needs to Take the Hint from Dilma Rousseff's Snub

The Brazilian president's cancelled visit, over NSA spying, ought to jolt the US out of its arrogant disrespect for Latin America

Tuesday's cancellation of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's state visit to the White House, scheduled for next month, came as little surprise. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden, and reported by Glenn Greenwald and TV Globo, had caused an uproar in Brazil. According to the documents and reports, the US government had spied on Dilma's personal communications, and had targeted the computer systems of Brazil's Petrobras, the big oil company that is majority-owned by the state.

TV Globo's report indicated that there was information in the targeted Petrobas computer network that could be very valuable to foreign oil companies. Former President Lula da Silva said that Obama should "personally apologize to the world"; and Dilma also demanded a full public apology – which was not forthcoming.

The rift with Brazil comes at a time of worsening US relations with Latin America, and especially South America. It is indicative of a much deeper problem.

The Obama administration's refusal to recognize the results of the Venezuelan elections in April of this year, despite the lack of doubt about the results and in stark opposition to the rest of the region, displayed an aggressiveness that Washington hadn't shown since it aided the 2002 coup. It brought a sharp rebuke from South America, including Lula and Dilma.

Less than two months later, US Secretary of State John Kerry launched a new "detente", meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart Elías Jaua in the first such high-level meeting in memory, and implicitly recognizing the election results. But new hopes were quickly dashed when several European governments, clearly acting on behalf of the United States, forced down President Evo Morales' plane in July.

"They've definitely gone crazy," President Cristina Kirchner tweeted, and UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations) issued a strong denunciation. The gross violation of international law and diplomatic norms was another flamboyant display of Washington's lack of respect for the region.

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