OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Becoming the family breadwinner at 12 years old, earning only $6 a month for 400 hours of service, in an industry with no job security and an epidemic of gender based violence; this is the story of activist Kalpona Akter — and such experiences remain a reality for some four million other garment workers in Bangladesh.
Akter's life "completely changed" when she attended a four-hour external training class, where she learned about workers' entitlement to better wages, hours, job security and the right to organise. Upon forming a union with other workers in her factory, however, she was fired and blacklisted from the industry.
29 years on, Akter is the founder and executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, pushing for fundamental changes to the working conditions of those in garment factories.
Bangladesh is the world's second-biggest producer of clothes, but the plight of garment workers only captured global attention with the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in 2013. In the wake of the disaster, which killed 1,138 people, hundreds of corporations signed a legally binding fire and building safety accord that covered more than 1,600 factories across Bangladesh.
But workers remain at risk in Bangladesh, with thousands taking to the streets earlier this year to protest wage levels, and the safety accord at risk of losing its right to operate in the country.
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