Bangladesh Garment Industry — The Dark Sides of a Success Story

Sorry for recently pulling the post dedicated to Taslima Ashkter’s A Final Embrace. Error of judgment. It’s one thing to post a photography of dead people on the front page — and another thing, as someone commented, to exploit such victims. Looks like the couple, embracing in death, have been partially dusted off to suit the photograph. Again, sorry for that. But here’s a selection of photos highlighting the plight of Bangladesh’s garment factory workers.

It goes without saying that there’s abuse and maltreatment in the industry. Corruption, greed and the disregard for building standards led to the Rana Plaza tragedy with 1,127 people killed. But fact is as well that the majority of Bangladeshi garment factories offer reasonable working standards and produce textiles of a quality that by far surpass the conditions the workers are living in.

Grief
Grief

In a way, Bangladesh’s garment industry is a success story by empowering the women and offering people without education comparatively clean and secure jobs. The alternative? A job as day laborer, rickshaw puller or on the fields for half the money.

But let the images speak. Compared to Dhaka’s chaotic’s streets, horrible pollution and abundant noise load many of Bangladesh’s garment factories offer a way out of utter poverty, and therefore a much more decent situation than life without those factories.

Garment Factory Girl
Garment Factory Girl

Blame global capitalism, but working conditions in most companies are far better than in many other industry and employment sectors. True, there are many black sheep, mainly small and old factories — people call them “mafia” companies. But as foreign buyers ask for “compliance,” more and more of those old-style factories no longer get orders and close down.

After having visited factories I even came to the conclusion that the garment industry represents about the only thing that’s working and adhering to standards in Bangladesh. Sounds like the opposite of what we’re made to believe. Pope Francis recently accused the “slave labor” in Bangladeshi garment factories. His Holiness might not be well informed. No one forces anyone to work in the industry. And those jobs are much sought-after, believe me.

(All photos shot with a trusty old out-of-production Canon G12. If that compact Canon is something for you, you’d have to go for its successor, the G15.)

Mothers & Fathers
Mothers & Fathers
Rana Ruins
Rana Ruins
Girl @ Ruins
Girl @ Ruins
The Factory
The Factory
Factory Girl
Factory Girl
Iron Men
Iron Men
Garment Workers
Garment Workers
Garment Labor
Garment Labor
Women Labor
Women Labor
Security Forces
Security Forces
Bazar
Bazar
Night Market
Night Market
Street Prayer
Street Prayer
Rickshaw Pullers
Rickshaw Pullers

  • Bengt Nyman

    Well spoken Dan !

    As you pointed out earlier, judging a situation from a distance without being intimately familiar with the local conditions is likely to produce a faulty conclusion. The standards and values that underpin our western expectations do not necessarily exist elsewhere.

    We see that clearly in international negotiations, conflicts and wars where the parties many times find each other’s expectations unreasonable or unacceptable due to a sharp difference in prevailing standards and values.

    Foreign developments of resources including the use of labor becomes a sensitive balancing act of fitting into local conditions without exploiting or abusing local values.

  • I like THEME, but what I like even more is YOUR photography. You should dedicate a page or so to it only.
    Dusting off is indeed exploitation, but I don’t think it’s an error of judgment, it’s one of ignorance, if you didn’t know, it’s not your fault.
    It’s easy to get tunnel Vision with the “Final embrace” image, it’s the task to the documentarian to balance the aspect, which you clearly did, I congratulate you.

    • Thank you, Olivier, appreciate.

      • Bengt Nyman

        I Agree with you Dan,

        Your evenhanded scanning and coverage of the photographic world makes you unique and trustworthy. As soon as a site becomes an undercover Leica, Sony or MeMe promoter it looses all credibility.

        • Nevertheless, Bengt, can’t avoid certain biases…

          Appreciate your supportive words!

  • Robin

    Bangladesh have many garments with better working condition. Also mainly women work in apparel industry as they are not allowed to work as a rickshaw puller, saleswoman or driver in this conservative country. They can work as a nurse or school teacher but that requires higher education and limited. Garments industry empowered women in Bangladesh as they earn some money and have say in family. Tk 5300($66) is not enough but one can live off that in Bangladesh. Here you can get a hair cut as low as US $0.20(20 cents).