Late last month, reports filtered into a few media outlets about a fire at a sweatshop in Chittagong, Bangladesh where workers were producing clothes under illegal conditions for a variety of companies in the United States. While initial reports placed the death toll at fifteen, there are now 86 confirmed deaths at the KTS Textile Industries factory and local independent women’s and workers’ organizations fear that the toll may grow higher with fifty workers currently missing. A large number of deaths were caused by the fact that the main emergency exit was illegally locked. Many of the 84 bodies recovered were burned beyond recognition and are believed to be 12 to 15 year old girls who were paid only seven cents an hour.
The fire is the latest in a series of abuses at KTS, a factory produced for the US-based companies Ambiance USA, Uni Hosiery, VIDA Enterprise Corp., O’Rite International Corp., ATT Enterprise, Inc., and Leslee Scott, Inc. Workers report forced overtime with 10 and a half to 14 hour shifts, seven days a week. Wages were also below subsistence level, with sewing operators earning 14 cents an hour, junior sewing operators earning 10 cents an hour, and helpers earning 7 to 8 cents an hour. Physical and verbal abuse is common, with workers reporting being slapped and threatened. A variety of other sweatshop conditions prevail including violations of maternity rights, monitoring of bathroom visits, unsafe drinking water, and a suppression of organizing efforts. Workers also report that there was no fire safety equipment and no fire drill had ever been held, despite the fact that fires have occurred in the past.
In response to the fire, workers at the factory have made the following demands:
500,000 taka ($7,375) compensation to the families of the dead workers.
Free medical treatment and a compensation of 50,000 taka ($738) for the families of the injured workers.
Full payment of the workers’ wages while they factory remains closed.
Thorough investigation and prosecution of KTS factory management and owner, Mr. Wahidul Kabir for illegally locking the main emergency exit.
Recognition of core UN/International Labor Organization worker rights standards of freedom of association, right to organize unions and to bargain collectively.
To assist in this effort, workers are asking that people send a letter to the KTS management in order to pressure the company. Moreover, with the maximum government fine for illegal factory conditions being only $7.37, there is a need to pressure the company in order to aid the workers.