Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Event hosts factory collapse survivor

Groggily waking up to darkness and smoke, Reba Sikder found herself trapped among the rubble of what was the biggest factory collapse in the history of the garment industry. That was April 24, 2013. Ten months and 8,492 miles later, Sikder sat in 38 Lloyd, translator at her side, with a story to tell.

“I am one of the survivors of the Rana Plaza disaster,” said Sikder, beginning her story of what happened when the 90-story building she worked in crumbled, leaving 1,134 of her 5,000 coworkers dead, and 400 injured.

“The power was gone, and then I just hear a huge sound like ‘boom,’ and I see everyone running and felt like I was falling, and then nothing,” Sikder said. “When I got conscious I felt my whole body wet – the blood was from a body trapped behind me. I heard other people screaming.”

Sikder, whose feet were confined under debris, was finally able to free herself, and struggled through the dark among cries for help and lifeless forms. She said she eventually found hope for an escape, though it was one not without sacrifice.

“There was one woman whose shoulder was pinned down under a machine, and we tried to help her, but we could not lift it. She told us she might not survive, but could show us a way to.”

Tearing up, Sikder continued to relay the story of her deliverance, which was found when a gust of air was felt through a crack in the wreckage, and a way out of the concrete maze was discovered. However, total relief was far from being felt.

“I don’t want any worker to get trapped like I did, and rescued two days later,” Sikder said. “Without your help, we cannot accomplish this.”

(See also “Group to host speakers on fair labor“)

Sikder refers to the work already set in motion by the University’s United Students Against Sweatshops student group, which advocates for fair labor and living wages in factories like Rana Plaza.

USAS hopes to get the SUPe Store to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor watchdog organization that would monitor factories around the world that produce University of Alabama apparel and would notify the administration of any labor rights abuses.

(See also “Books only available at SUPe Store limit options for UA students“)

The factories manufacturing Alta Gracia products operate differently from a typical sweatshop by offering realistic wages and safer working environments via audits. These two factors are needed for change in the industry, said Kalpona Akter, a labor organizer from Bangladesh who helped translate Reba Sikder’s story.

“Who is responsible for this disaster? It is beyond the factory owner. The companies, the brand, have more responsibility,” Akter said. “They are supposed to audit and ensure factories are safe, but these [audits] are always announced, and workers are coached on what to say.

“We are [also] asking for companies to give factories more money – as it is, they do not have enough for repairs [in machinery and infrastructure] or for decent wages.”

Angely Martinez, a junior majoring in international studies and French, said it is important to stay globally aware despite the cloistered life of a college setting.

(See also “The cost of not studying abroad“)

“It’s people’s job to inform themselves and to learn about living in perspective,” Martinez said. “When I read about this last year, it was really chilling, but hearing about it in person makes it more terrible.”

Martinez said she recognizes the need for the kind of action Akter is calling for and plans to help make an effort for the fair labor cause.

“It’s unacceptable to have a huge factory like this collapse. That shouldn’t be happening today,” said Martinez. “If I can at least reach out to one or more people, that can get the ball rolling.”

Akter and Sikder will continue their nationwide tour, sponsored by the National United Students Against Sweatshops organization, with stops in Washington, D.C. and New York City to raise awareness about slacking fair labor laws and inspections in countries such as India.

But, as Garrett Strain, the NUSAS member who is managing the tour, reminded attendees, change begins locally.

“We can all leave this room being aware,” Strain said. “What needs to happen is action.”

Updated on Feb. 13 to note USAS’s goal to affiliate with the WRC, not Alta Gracia. Alta Gracia products are already in the SUPe Store.

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