North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Bangladesh tragedy

By now, most people are familiar with the collapse over two weeks ago of an shoddily and overbuilt garment factory in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh - a country of 150 million primarily Muslim people, that emerged from a 1971 war of secession from Pakistan.

Bangladesh is a low lying country at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. It is subject to regular flooding from three major river emptying into the Bay, and at danger of typhoons and hurricanes driving water back into the land. Any rise in the ocean levels would be an immediate concern of this country, unlike The Netherlands with its substantial investment in dikes, seawalls, and drainage contingencies.

As CNN described it just this morning, "More than two weeks after a factory collapsed in Bangladesh, trapping workers in a mangled concrete heap, the death toll has surpassed 900.

Authorities pulled more bodies from the rubble, bringing the number of people killed to 912 , officials said Thursday.

The Rana Plaza building - only three floors of the 8-story building were legal ...

Rescue workers saved more than 2,400 people in the aftermath of the collapse, but have focused on using heavy machinery to uncover bodies buried beneath the ruins. The building, which housed five factories full of garment workers, caved in, burying hundreds of people in a heap of concrete. It is the South Asian nation's deadliest industrial disaster. ..."

The building collapse and loss of life has brought up a number of questions - typically focused on who to blame. In order of immediacy:
#1 the owners of the factories in the building who did not heed the Bangladesh authorities warnings to evacuate the structure due to ever widening cracks
#2 the construction standards and inspection frequencies
#3 the original construction company, but also the ones responsible for adding additional floors that were beyond the original design and permits
#4 the western companies who purchased clothing manufactured at the factories. They are blamed for a vague coercion of the actual manufacturers in demanding very cheap prices or they will take their business elsewhere in the world.

Click on image for full picture
The garment manufacturing industry in Bangladesh has been growing at a fast pace for nearly two decades, providing millions with a lift out of absolute poverty. According the the CNN article, "Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry accounts for 77% of the country's exports." However, industrial safety standards for buildings and working conditions for workers have not kept pace among the nearly 5000 factories in the sector.

Click on image for full picture
A haunting embrace photographed by a Bangladeshi reporter has gone around the world - emphasizing the tragedy of this situation.

While the debate over who is to blame is the immediate one, the real question is whether actual changes will occur in building codes, in penalties for those who violate codes, and a more rigorous system of, and capability in, inspections and warnings. These address items 1, 2, and 3. Who will be willing to pay for such improvements will be the focus of item 4. Global trade can grow economies, but responsibilities within long global supply chains remain murky, and need to be forcefully addressed by both governments and industries.

Two final points:

#1 This particular tragedy is only one of a string of garment factory accidents - several fatal - and in fact another occurred just today, May 8 when a fire in a garment factory building killed eight workers. The challenge in Bangladesh is large, and one suspects equally challenging in a number of developing countries that have offered low wage/cost alternatives to companies at the far end of the logistics - Western clothing retailers.

#2 Inexplicably, days after the Dhaka building collapse, deadly riots occurred - not with the focus on improving working and building standards however - but by Islamists seeking to pressure the government to impose stricter tenets of Sharia law.

As the New York Times wrote on May 6, "Violence erupted across Bangladesh on Monday as Islamist fundamentalists demanding passage of an anti-blasphemy law clashed with security forces, leaving a trail of property damage and at least 22 people dead after a second day of unrest.

The skirmishes began Sunday when thousands of Islamic activists staged a march on Dhaka, the capital, followed by speeches and a mass demonstration. The authorities say several hundred shops were vandalized, and local television channels showed fires in the central part of the city. Later, when protesters refused to leave, security officers unleashed tear gas and fired rubber bullets to drive them out of the capital.

The confrontations escalated on Monday, as a major clash occurred about 15 miles outside the capital in the district of Narayanganj ... Bangladeshi news media reported that three security officers were beaten to death while a dozen other people were killed, including protesters shot by the police. Traffic was halted for at least eight hours on one of the country’s most important highways, connecting Dhaka with the southern port of Chittagong.

The angry faces, once again, of aimless, religious-oriented mobs, spurred on by Islamic fundamentalist clerics. While the NY Times reported 22 deaths, others report at least 37 deaths from the mayhem.

For nearly two weeks, Bangladesh’s feuding political parties and Islamic movements have essentially called a truce as the country reeled from the collapse of the Rana Plaza building ... Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had called on Islamic hard-liners to postpone their planned march — described as Siege Dhaka by supporters on social media — but they refused. The march was organized by Hefajat-e-Islam, a group of Islamic hard-liners who have called for Bangladesh’s Constitution to be drastically amended with a 13-point program that would ban intermingling between men and women and punish by execution Bangladeshi bloggers accused of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad."

Police and the mob ...

Wounded police being attended to by their colleagues

Here are the 13 demands of the Islamist group leader, Hefajat-e Islam Bangladesh ameer Shah Ahmad Shafi:

1. Restore the phrase ‘Complete faith and trust in the Almighty Allah’ in the constitution and repeal all the laws contrary to the holy Quran and Sunnah.

2. Pass a law in parliament keeping a provision of the maximum punishment of death sentence to prevent defaming Allah, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) and Islam and smear campaigns against Muslims.

3. Take measures for stringent punishment against self-declared atheists and bloggers, led the so-called Shahbagh movement, and anti-Islamists who made derogatory remarks against the Prophet.

4. Stop infiltration of all alien-culture, including shamelessness in the name of individual’s freedom of expression, anti-social activities, adultery, free mixing of male and female, and candle lighting.

5. Make Islamic education mandatory from primary to higher secondary levels canceling the anti-Islamic women policy and anti-religion education policy.

6. Officially declare Qadianis (Ahmadiyyas) as non-Muslim and stop their propaganda and all conspiratorial ill-moves.

7. Stop setting up sculptures at intersections, schools, colleges and universities across the country.

8. Lift restriction on saying prayers in all mosques across the country, including Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, without any hassle and remove obstacles to carrying out religious activities.

9. Stop evil efforts to spread hatred in the mind of young generation regarding Islam through the misrepresentation of religious dresses and cultures in the media.

10. Stop anti-Islam activities by NGOs across the country, including in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and evil attempts of Christian missionaries for conversion.

11. Stop attacks, mass killing, oppression and indiscriminate shooting on Alem-Ulama, devout followers of the Prophet and towhidi janata (revolutionary people).

12. Stop threatening teachers and students of Qawmi madrasas, Islamic scholars, imams and khatibs and conspiracies against them.

13. Free immediately all the arrested Islamic scholars, madrasa students and towhidi janata and withdraw all false cases filed against them, compensate the victims and bring the assailants to justice.

Teatree muses how appropriate it would have been for these Islamic purists to have added a #14 - something along the line of "strengthen our building codes, fully fund our inspectors, stiffen our penalties for those who violate workplace safety standards, etc."


Sarah said...

This student has been tweeting from Bangladesh about both the building collapse and the riots. Pretty interesting.

Teatree said...

Thank you for your twitter reference! Important reading.

I lifted a few sentences from the long account, "Bangladesh may be a nation spiraling into chaos and conflict but it ultimately does so with the willingness of all parties involved. Bangladesh not only lacks a Desmond Tutu-like figure - a figure who can help foster empathy, healing, truth, and reconciliation - it lacks a population willing to embrace such ideals. As one Shahbag supporter put it, "forgiveness is not for sale". Both sides call for blood. But no matter how much blood is shed - it's never enough to satisfy either side."

These events truly represent the Bangladesh tragedy.

Teatree said...

Some movement is already underway regarding western clothing companies supporting (financially and brand name status) increased safety standards and inspection muscle.