Bangladesh building collapse affecting retailers in U.S.

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NEW YORK (PIX11) — Chances are, if many of us take a look inside of our closets, you will find not one, but a few pieces of clothing made in Bangladesh.

The garment industry in Bangladesh is a booming one, second only to China.  However, wages are extremely low.  An average garment worker earns only about $37 a month.  Major recognizable names, like Gap, H&M, Wa-lMart and so many others contract out to these factories and labor rights groups say these retailers have the power to make some serious changes to prevent future tragedies like the one we saw this week.

Chaotic images of rescue and despair coming out of Bangladesh are truly heartbreaking.  With limited resources, hundreds of garment workers are slowly still being pulled out of rubble after more than two days after a building where thousands were working collapsed.

What’s worse is the disaster could have been prevented.  Cracks in the structure led management to send bank workers in the same building home, while thousands of garment workers were told they were safe.

The devastation is something 24-year-old Sumi Abedin knows all too well.  She survived the Tazreen factory fire almost six months ago also in Bangladesh and she described how hundreds were killed after being told to continue working after the fire broke out. When they tried to escape, gates were locked by managers.

Abedin only managed to save her own life by jumping out of a third story window, breaking an arm and leg.

Abedin is now on a tour with the International Labor Rights Forum, a group calling for improvements to current safety and labor practices and urging U.S retailers to sign on to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which would create transparency, oversight and ensure rigorous inspections of all facilities.

“We are talking about companies like Wal-Mart.  We are talking about companies like Gap, H&M outlets here.  There’s certainly responsibility to go around,” Eric Dirnbach, Vice President of the Board of International Labor Rights Forum.

In this latest tragedy, retailers like WalMart, Mango, Benetton,  Dress Barn and Children”s Place have all used garment factories in this building, though each have said they did not have any contracts out at the time of the collapse.

“The retailers simply need to pay more for the product that they’re getting. Forcing contracts all over the world to compete for rock bottom labor costs means you’re going to have sweatshop conditions and not enough money for safe factories,” said Dirnback.

Dimback adds U.S. consumers also have a lot of power here and can write to retailers to help garment workers get their voices heard.