BGMEA and 'image crisis'
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has demanded punishment to the owners and engineers of Rana Plaza against the background of the collapse of the nine-storey building in Savar. The sentiment is appreciated.
It means to have owners of garment factories ensure structural security of their enterprises and submit reports to it to this end, failing which the BGMEA will move to cancel the licences of errant garment firms. This sentiment too is appreciated.
What worries the public, though, is the ire expressed by BGMEA members at an extraordinary general meeting on Saturday regarding the role of the media in the aftermath of the Savar tragedy.
The media, so believe these garment factory owners, have been exaggerating the tragedy through constantly uploading graphic images of the accident and thereby creating an image crisis for the industry in the global arena. What exaggeration? What graphic images? What image crisis?
With more than 375 workers perishing under the debris of Rana Plaza, with uncountable others unaccounted for, with hundreds maimed for life, with thousands of dependants now staring into a dark future, the BGMEA is worried about an image crisis abroad?
The image crisis does not come through the lens of the electronic media or the reports of the print media. It comes in ways that the BGMEA and its friends in high places as well as the broad masses in this country know about. In all these years, with workers dying in factory accidents, with many others turning into the walking dead, not even one garment owner has been punished through trial and conviction.
As recently as November last year, 112 workers lost their lives, many of them charred beyond recognition, in the fire that left Tazreen Fashions a ghostly hulk of its earlier self. Its owner remained untouched and was spotted moving around in good cheer at the recent BGMEA election. Did the BGMEA leadership ever explain to the nation how he happened to be there?
The international community will be properly upset at images of men of shady character eluding justice than at footage and photographs of dead workers carried day after day by the media. An image crisis does not happen through informing the country of poor, underfed workers dying under tons of slab. It happens when garment owners, rather than rushing to ensure justice through handing over one of their own to the law, are worried about the 'vandalism' resorted to by workers.
The nation's garment industry suffers when its poor, emaciated workers hit the streets on the eve of religious festivals to ask for a bonus, a right which many factory owners are reluctant to hand over. And those workers hit the streets because of the insensitivity of their factory owners.
The ready made garments (RMG) sector is a prime underpinning of the nation's economy. Unfortunately, it is an economy where justice is the great missing factor. It is the workers who die or are left to lead lives with broken limbs. When the BGMEA leaders met the prime minister in the nocturnal hours a few nights ago, did she ask them why there were no workers in their team? Has the government given thought to the prospect of a workers' delegation making its grievances known to the head of government?
The truth is self-evident: the BGMEA, whose record has been tarnished through the huge structure it has housed itself in and about which the courts have already pronounced judgement, has consciously stayed away from advocating punishment to those of its members guilty of gross criminality.
Observe the reality. The number of dead in the Rana Plaza crash rises every minute. The Tazreen tragedy is a matter of record. As many as 64 workers died in the Spectrum tragedy in 2005. In January this year, seven workers died in an accident at Smart Fashions. The Spectrum owner was in prison for a mere one and a half months before coming back to normal life, as if nothing had happened.
Such truths lead to an image crisis, not the graphic uploading of footage of the victims of bad, even criminal garment entrepreneurs. It is time to investigate the BGMEA and the manner in which it has protected its members of questionable integrity. And, to be sure, it is time to examine each and every factory and industry that is today part of the membership structure of the BGMEA.
When workers go on a rampage, it is a law and order situation. When owners do not worry about their wobbly buildings and their dead workers and instead go on the run or into hiding, it is pure, absolute and unadulterated crime.