Churches to launch rights campaign for Bangladesh garment workers

(Photo: REUTERS / Andrew Biraj)Relatives mourn as they show pictures of garment workers, believed to be trapped under the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building, in Savar, 30 kilometers (19 miles) outside Dhaka April 28, 2013. Hope for survivors under the rubble of a building that collapsed outside the capital of Bangladesh was fading, and with more than 900 people still counted as missing fears grew that the death toll could rise far beyond the latest figure on that date of 363.

A global coalition of churches is to launch a campaign in London to press for better rights for Bangladeshi garment workers before Christmas and the northern hemisphere winter sales.

The campaign will launch on September 5, to mobilise church members, especially in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, to lobby retailers and politicians to improve wages, safety and working conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers, Anglican Alliance reported on August 27.

There are 4,000,000 workers in the industry that produces 80 percent of Bangladeshi export earnings and that supply malls and high streets with affordable clothes at thousands of outlets around the world.

Imprinted on the minds of organizers are two recent tragedies in the South Asian country that produces so many of the world's garments.

On April 24, a factory collapse at the Rana Plaza in Dhaka killed more than 1,100 people and injured around 2,000 more. Just six months earlier, a fire in a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killed 117 people.

In both tragedies, most of the victims were garment workers making clothes for sale in Western countries, mainly Europe and North America.

On September 5 in Methodist Central Hall, London, among those starting the campaign will be the Rev. John Christie, former moderator of the Church of Scotland, Sally Keeble, director of the Anglican Alliance and Bishop Paul Sarker, Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh, who will join the event via Skype, wrote the British think tank Ekklesia.

Ekklesia said the campaign follows action by Bishop Paul Sarker to support the injured and bereaved families after the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

The Anglican Alliance said it has produced a pack that will focus on global justice for Bangladesh garment workers who are paid $0.15 an hour compared with more than $6 for their U.S. counterparts

It will also highlight, "Wage justice for the workers who are paid only 14 per cent of the living wage in Bangladesh, with women in the industry earning much less than men.

Anglican Alliance noted that more than 1,800 Bangladesh garment workers are estimated to have died in factory collapses and fires since 1985.

Its pack provides an action plan for grassroots campaigning, and a letter for consumers to send to their retailers demanding improvements to the pay and working conditions of garment workers. Real-life stories from garment workers in Bangladesh also highlight the oppression they face and the struggle to survive.

Bishop Sarker, said: "The Church of Bangladesh is passionate about the fight for social justice. Ongoing support from the wider community can help us deliver real justice for this oppressed group of workers."

The global coalition of churches in the Church of Bangladesh Group includes: Anglican Alliance, Church of Bangladesh, Church Mission Society, Church of Scotland, Council for World Mission, Diocese of Llandaff (Church in Wales), Methodist Church in Britain, Presbyterian Church of the Netherlands (ICCO/PCN), Oxford Mission, Us (United Society).

Former Church of Scotland General Assembly moderator, Rev. John Christie, told Christian Today he was deeply affected by the plight of garment workers during a visit to Bangladesh in his year as Moderator from 2010 to 2011.

Not long after his return to Scotland, 28 people perished in a blaze at a garment factory in Ashulia.

Christie was horrified to learn that it was unusual that the victims, mainly women, had been named because there are so many fires in Bangladeshi garment factories that the victims are rarely mentioned.Bam

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