Morning Report 8/20/05
Bangladesh Bomb Blasts? Sew What?

Did you hear about those 400 explosions the other day? Didn't think so.

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I was wrong when I recently wrote that the 350 bombs that exploded all across Bangladesh on August 17 were among the shots heard 'round the world that day.

Hey, my apologies. I didn't realize that the major U.S. media didn't give a shit about what's going on in the planet's seventh most populous nation, a crowded country whose sweatshop workers sew many of our clothes.

It's not that newspapers never cover Bangladesh. Only last October, the New York Times ran a long story about how vibrant the expatriate Bengali press is in New York City, about how Bangladeshis love to read, about how there are 12 competing Bengali-language newspapers in the city.

That heart-warming story, by Tripti Lahiri, was headlined "Immigrants with Ink in Their Blood."

No doubt. But what happened to the ink in the blood of the Times editors?

Lahiri's good read was a feel-good story. The frightening news that radical Islamists set off all these bombs in Bangladesh must have been a feel-nothing story.

When's the last time you heard of more than 300 bombs going off across a country, all within an hour's time and all accompanied by leaflets from an extremist group claiming credit?

Nevertheless, the only mention of the August 17 bomb blasts I can find in the Times, web or print, is brief wire-service stuff.

Only the Christian Science Monitor, among the better daily papers, carried a report of any length at all and from its own correspondent.

Well, many of the 144 million inhabitants of Bangladesh cared. They conducted a one-day strike to protest their government's inability to stem rising radicalism. By the way, there were 400 explosions, not just 350.

Here's more from the BBC's Roland Buerk this morning from Dhaka:

    A 10-year-old boy and a rickshaw puller were killed and more than 100 others were injured.

    Leaflets bearing the name of a banned Islamic organisation, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, were found at every bomb site. They called for the establishment of Islamic law in Bangladesh.

    Meanwhile, the police are interrogating more than 120 people detained since the attacks. Several of the suspects are alleged to be members of Islamic groups linked to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen.

    The incident has caused some people here to doubt the government's long standing insistence that it has religious extremists under control.

Bangladesh is already beset by out-of-control flooding during monsoon season, paralyzing poverty, and overpopulation.

Just imagine 144 million people crammed into an area the size of Iowa.

But at least its workers are under control. Bangladesh is a sweatshop haven. In fact, you probably own a ball cap or sweatshirt made by a Bangladeshi.

Speaking of Iowa, Bangladeshi workers are paid 1½ cents to make each Iowa State Cyclone ball cap.

Just in case you heard about the bomb blasts despite the U.S. media's general cone of silence, here's an update on working conditions in Bangladesh, as of January.

You might be interested if you're an American working woman who's ever been pregnant, is pregnant, or may become pregnant — or if you know any women like that. Otherwise, don't read this from the National Labor Committee:

    An estimated 90 percent of the more than 3,780 export garment factories in Bangladesh violate women's legal right to 3 months maternity leave full pay. Some companies harass and pressure the pregnant women workers to force them to quit. Others give the leave but will only take the women back as new employees. Only a handful of companies in fact pay the benefits. The vast majority of factories simply cheat the women.

    Please write to Wal-Mart, Kohls and other companies asking them to sign The Pledge — that any woman in Bangladesh sewing their garments will be guaranteed her legal right to maternity leave with benefits. The law in Bangladesh is very straightforward — it requires companies to provide three months maternity leave with full pay.

Only last September, Bangladeshi workers toured the U.S., in the company of American labor activists, to explain what daily life is like. Here's a glimpse of their stop in Charleston to meet with West Virginia union workers:

    When the workers spoke to the unionists, you could hear a pin drop. They described how they are treated in their factories, making clothing for Wal-Mart, and laid out their modest demands for one day a week off because they are sick and exhausted, an end to the beatings and physical abuse, that they receive their legal maternity leave of three months with full pay, and that they be paid the proper double-time rate for overtime, rather than being routinely cheated by some of the largest companies in the world.

    In their wildest dreams, they would have the right to organize and would earn 37 cents an hour, which would allow them to climb out of misery and into poverty.

    Surely Wal-Mart could afford this. The company made a $9.1 billion profit last year, the Walton family is worth $90 billion and CEO Lee Scott pays himself $240,000 a week. On the other hand, Robina, who sews Faded Glory cargo pants for Wal-Mart, earns just 13 cents an hour, $1.04 a day and less than $6.50 a week.

Don't tell me that Americans don't care about what goes on in the rest of the world. It's the media gatekeepers who are at fault.

Here's what happened in Charleston after the Bangladeshi workers spoke:

    At the end, the workers received a standing ovation. Some were so moved there were tears in their eyes. There was a 100% commitment to help these workers win their rights and to finally call for legislation that will hold corporations accountable to respect human, women's and workers rights and prohibit the import into the U.S. of products made under harsh sweatshop conditions.

    Currently, under the WTO, the product and trademark are protected by enforceable laws backed up by sanctions. But there is no such protection for the worker, the sixteen-year-old girl who made the product.

More importantly for many Americans, I suppose, is if there's strife in Bangladesh — let's say, 400 bigger bombs the next time — who the hell is going to make our ball caps and sweatshirts?

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