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Protest Vigil held in Harvard Square, December 01 2012,  for Tazreen Garment Factory-Fire in Bangladesh

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA – Activists and community-members from various parts of the Boston-area took part in a protest vigil at Harvard Square. Roughly 35 people attended. The vigil was called by the Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia (“Alliance”) and supported by several social justice groups, including the International Labor Rights Forum.

Participants carried signs with messages such as, “Walmart Is Cheap? Ask Bangladeshi Workers,” and “Prosecute Guilty Corporations for Bangladesh Fire.” They also held candles to mark the solemnity of the occasion.

Somnath Mukherji, an activist with the Association for India's Development, spoke about the supply chains that are involved in the everyday products we consume and how they hide a world of exploitation. “Will we let economics dehumanize us?” he asked.

Tamzid Chowdhury, originally from Bangladesh and currently a PhD student at University of Massachusetts, Boston, read out a statement from Alliance which included a statement that, “The numbers (of those killed) hide the grief of a mother or the dreams of a young wife just beginning a family.” He also sought to shed light on the process of exploitative distribution of the resources in the garment business: “For any garment sold in the West for, say, $100, the government of these countries (where the factories are situated) earn more than $25 (in taxes), the foreign buyers over $50 and the rest, about $24, goes to the factory-owners, leaving less than a dollar for the worker.”

Gabriel Camacho, a long-time local activist, spoke about the movement of jobs to the “lowest labor markets,” where the pays were pitiful, union-organizing absent and safety-standards not enforced. “We are talking about a system of global capitalism and we need to think how we respond in a political and economic way,” he said.

Rezaul Karim, a community member originally from Bangladesh, highlighted the various “accomplices” in tragedies such as these, such as the government, the factory owners and the multinational corporations. “We have to be very vigilant about what is happening in the name of progress and globalization,” he said.

Liana Foxvog of the International Labor Rights Forum said that the one blessing in disguise of the Tazreen fire was the intense media coverage that was being directed at the incident. “We have to use the moment to talk about how Walmart is responsible, how all these other companies are responsible.” She mentioned a report that her organization is coming out with on December 14 which will reveal how since 1990 more than a 1000 deaths have occurred in the Bangladesh garment industry from factory fires, boiler explosions and building collapses. Stressing how such incidents were recurring, she mentioned that just a day after the Tazreen fire, there was another factory blaze. She also revealed how the US retail-chain Gap had pulled out of talks about comprehensive building safety negotiations in Bangladesh, initiating their own effort instead. “If you go to their website, it might look very pretty,” she said. “But what is missing are workers' voices, any legally binding terms, or a willingness to pay higher prices to factory owners as an incentive to implement the compliance guidelines,” she added.