THE workers of garments industries in Bangladesh who are generally females and teenagers work very long hours for a remuneration which is among the lowest in the world. Garments workers ought to be considered as among the country's most honourable persons; their performance has made Bangladesh a leading exporter of apparel in the world and their contribution is extraordinary in keeping the country's foreign exchange reserve well replenished and making the owners of garments industries very very rich. But how are they treated in return for their contribution ? Everyone should know the answer. Frequently, we come across deaths in garments industries caused by the poor working conditions. One such recent accident at Chittagong has claimed many lives and is an example of the hardly improved working conditions in the garments industries.
The owners of industrial establishments of any type are required by law to maintain safe working conditions for their workers or employees. But the country's garments factories have been in many cases offenders in this regard, notwithstanding that these have been mainly on a profit track and earning the lion's share of the country's foreign exchange for over two decades. Nearly all cases of deaths in garments factories in recent years were linked to the breaking out of fire from electrical mishaps and the panicked workers stampeding to leave buildings through narrow stairways in the absence of proper fire exits to be used during fire incidents.
But the owners should pay attention to these factors considering the huge profits they made by exploiting the workers so cheaply. The owners need to realise that improving conditions for the workers in garments industries is a form of investment for the future. Any step they take in this direction will help them to be spared from non-tariff barriers from the importing countries. Importing countries are more and more emphasising the compliance issues or fair treatment of workers in exporting countries. Thus, the owners of garments industries should have a stake in treating their workers significantly better in order to be spared from application of such non-tariff barriers on compliance grounds. Compliance would also require the owners to reasonably increase wages and other benefits for the workers.