Doug Miller Last Night Shift in Savar: The Story of the Spectrum Factory Collapse, McNidder and Grace, 2012, pp. xix+204.
Bangladesh has emerged as one of the main exporters of garments to the developed countries. The multi-national garment companies operating in Europe and the Americas were eager to procure their goods at cheap rates from developing countries. Labour wages are cheap and there is hardly any regulation on work by the state in these countries. Workers in these garment factories work for long hours under precarious conditions and they are paid poor wages. These factors contribute to lowering of costs so that the MNCs can reap high profits. The garment manufacturing companies in the developing countries work on low margins as the bulk buyers (mostly MNCs) quote low procurement prices. As a result, in order to earn their profits, garment manufacturers not only pay low wages to their workers, they also violate all safety norms at the workplace. In many cases these lead to industrial accidents but as laws are not very stringent the workers are paid a pittance as compensation. The living and working conditions of the workers are reminiscent of what Friedrich Engels has observed in his outstanding ethnographic study on the conditions of the working class in England. The conditions of work in these factories are justified by policy makers simply because they provide employment to impoverished workers in these countries. It is only when a disaster takes place that people are jolted and the garment companies are brought under the scanner. This book deals with the aftermath of one such disaster.
In the night of 10 April 2005 the Spectrum sweater factory in Savar, near the capital city of Dhaka, crashed killing several workers in the night shift. The factory was originally of five stories but the owners raised it by another three stories which itself was dangerous for the structure. In addition to this illegality the owners installed heavy machinery in the top floor which actually caused the disaster.
The death of innocent workers stirred the consciousness of the nation but that was not enough. The compensation prescribed by law was a pittance as these laws were passed by the colonial government (before 1947) and was highly inadequate. The trade unions of garment workers of Bangladesh were active in trying to get fair compensation for the injured workers and the families of the dead workers. The factory owner tried to wriggle out of...