50 Garments Workers commit Suicide within only Five months (2004)
This is a national tragedy when as many as 50 garments workers commit suicide within only five months. The reason cited for driving them to this ultimate solution to their lives is loss of job and lack of any kind of financial and other security. The workers were abruptly terminated from their jobs—mostly in sweater factories and their financial hardship was too overcoming for them. The government and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) are not quite aware of the unnatural deaths of factory workers. This is surprising. When many have expressed doubt about Bangladesh's ability to absorb the shock as the international, particularly the US, garments market becomes open and competitive. The government made a brave face and claimed it would not hurt the industry.
The first signs, even before the quota system has been abolished, are quite alarming. Maybe, to the government and the BGMEA, the manufacturing industry means nothing more than the owners and exporters. The workers are dispensable. Is that how the government and the BGMEA want to meet the threat from an open and competitive international garments market? That something of this order was coming was not unknown but apart from some retraining for some workers under supervision of an international organisation, the garments owners have contributed little to help their workers out of the problem.
This is sad. The loss of market in the US could well be made up if only timely initiatives were taken to enter the biggest market of all—the European market. The government's lopsided emphasis on the US market as well as the BGMEA's lack of initiatives for exploring fresh pasture are largely to blame for not making the lost ground.
It has already been shaping into a mass tragedy. If more workers are retrenched on a short notice –a likely scenario, more such suicides will take place.
The workers were not financially well off but at least they learnt how to earn a living. Now if they are terminated, a bleak future stares them in the face. Although a few of the female garments workers of Gazipur turned to prostitution in desperation, others established the dignity of labour even at the ultimate cost of their lives.
Forcing such workers to take their own lives would be a great injustice to them. They must be given employment also because the gender issue involved here cannot be ignored. Of the 46 suicidal cases recorded with the Joydevpur Police Station, 10 are male and the rest 36 are female. So before this human tragedy takes a nasty turn, the BGMEA, the government and international agencies should come forward to help the workers avert the crisis.
(Editorial, The Bangladesh Observer, 30. 06. 04)