My name is Arif Ullah. My family moved from Bangladesh to the United States when I was 6 years old. I grew up in New York. I've shopped at JC Penney and Gap, and now I am outraged to learn that these companies and others have refused to adopt meaningful safety measures to protect the lives of the workers in my home country who sew their clothing.
This deliberate negligence has resulted in yet another tragic incident in recent weeks, which you've probably seen in the news: more than 1100 people killed as a building in Bangladesh housing six garment factories crumbled to the ground. Even as this death toll continued to climb, a fire at at another clothing factory in Dhaka on Wednesday claimed at least another 8 lives. All these factories were making clothes destined for dozens of US and European retailers, including JC Penney, Children's Place, and Cato. Even in Bangladesh, where horrific tragedies like these due to unsafe factories are all too common, this level of devastation is unprecedented.
Factory workers at the collapsed building were denied their right to refuse dangerous working conditions: they were told they would lose a month’s pay if they didn’t report to work the day after deep and alarming cracks appeared in the walls of the building. The disaster at Rana Plaza is now the deadliest incident in the history of the garment industry the world over. That's why garment workers in Bangladesh are taking to the streets every day to call for accountability in huge numbers.
While I am shocked and horrified at the callousness of companies that prioritize profits over human lives, I am in no way helpless. Today, I ask you to join me in calling on JC Penney, Gap and other companies to make immediate safety improvements in their supplier factories and to put an end to the murders of garment workers in Bangladesh once and for all.
These multinational companies have been involved in the scourge of factory disasters in Bangladesh, which could have been prevented had they addressed earlier tragedies and protected workers’ lives as urged by unions and labor rights groups. In December 2010, 29 workers perished in the factory fire at That’s It Sportswear, where workers sewed clothing for JC Penney and Gap Inc. Just last fall, a fire at Tazreen, a Walmart supplier, took the lives of 112 garment workers, and Walmart, nor any of the other US buyers, have offered compensation to the victims.
This pattern of fires and building collapses will not end unless major US retailers make real changes in how they do business in Bangladesh. These companies have been telling us for 20 years to trust them. They have their own private codes of conduct and they monitor themselves or hire outside firms to monitor compliance. The horrific building collapse is the final nail in the coffin of corporate self-regulation. We cannot trust companies to jeopardize workers’ lives with their own corporate-controlled programs.
They must now make a legally binding commitment to keep workers safe: The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which 40 companies have already joined. If JCP had signed earlier, hundreds of workers could have been spared gruesome death. These companies have no choice anymore. They must be held legally accountable for their actions. These murders must not be allowed to continue.