My heart is heavy after seeing a garment factory today. It does not seem real that this is people's lives in this century. It looked like the stuff of textbooks, conditions that we as Americans hear about but don't imagine as real. We toured Grameen Knitwear, a company that knits, dyes, and sews clothing to then be shipped to European and American clothing companies. The entire place seemed like a concentration camp: our minibus drove past security gas into what looked like a run down business district, where we had to pass armed guards and more security gates, and then we walked into the factory. It was all gray and metal and steam on the first floor, with huge machines weaving immense quantities of material. Workers with masks over their nose and mouth tended the machines amidst the intolerable machine droning and poor air conditions. The next floor up held more workers with masks drenched in sweat as they guided the material through huge steaming vats of dye. Another floor had workers with chain metal gloves cutting four inch stacks of fabric with industrial shearers that could easily slice a finger, or a hand. Above them we entered the sewing floors: a gym sized room with thousands of young Bangladeshis bent over sewing machines in crowded rows, each sewing one seam of the garment and then passing it to the next, that same seam over and over and over and over all day long. They were young people, in their teens and twenties, and all making hundreds of thousands of identical athletic shirts for US and European markets. All this so we can have cheap tshirts and sportswear. It was very hard to see. I like inexpensive clothes as much as the next person, but to go here and look these people in the eyes... They know and I know who is benefiting from this factory. And we both know it's not fair.
On the way home from the factory we stopped at Rana Plaza, the wreck site of an old garment factory. In this area there was first a pond, but developers filled in the pond to build their factory. At first it was supposed to be two floors, but then they kept adding on, shaky floor after another until the building towered over others in the area at eight stories. Cracks were discovered in the building and the commercial stores on the first floor evacuated, but workers in the garment factory were ordered back to work or they would lose their jobs. The next morning, the building collapsed, killing over 1100 people and injuring over 2500. It was the deadliest garment factory accident in history. And when did this happen? Last year!! Last year, April 24, 2013. How does this happen?? It is unfathomable to see this kind of tragedy, something so preventable, something that should be the stuff of textbooks, still happening today. We slipped under some barbed wire connecting a few tin sheets surrounding the area, and saw the destruction site. Today, a year later, the hole is filled back up with greenish pond water, and surrounded with rubble. Knit scraps and abandoned shoes and plastic trash peaked out from under the concrete debris, and one man was wandering around the site looking for something of value. Outside the tin sheeting, the crazy city of Dhaka continued as usual -- shouting, rickshaw drivers, mule carts, tea stalls, dust, heat. The presence of death is less unusual here. It doesn't shock them so much.
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.