Trapped inside the crowded, smoke-filled garment factory, 24-year-old Sumi Abedin did the only thing she could do to escape the flames: she jumped. Falling three stories from the burning factory’s window, Sumi broke a leg and a hand on impact, but she was lucky. One hundred and twelve of her co-workers perished in what is now known as the worst Bangladesh factory fire in history. Nearly half of the bodies were burned beyond recognition.
To draw attention to the workers' plight, as well as the shameful lack of action by Walmart and other brands involved, Sumi traveled to the U.S. for a 10-city tour to pressure Walmart and other retailers into improving safety standards throughout Bangladesh’s massive garment manufacturing sector and to demand compensation for the victims of the tragedy. Sumi, who is still recovering from her injuries, was joined by Kalpona Akter, the executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, as well as activists from Corporate Action Network, International Labor Rights Forum, Making Change at Walmart, SumOfUs, United Students Against Sweatshops, and Warehouse Workers United. These groups joined together to draw the world’s attention to the injustices and hazards plaguing Bangladesh’s garment industry. The tour is a continuation of an ongoing campaign launched in November 2012 immediately following the deadly fire. An online network of groups and activists led by the Corporate Action Network, have been pressuring Walmart to make amends and prevent future tragedies for over five months.
Sadly while Sumi and Kalpona were on the tour, another unsafe factory took the lives of more than 200 people in Bangladesh. The Tazreen fire that Sumi survived was not an isolated incident, and this week’s factory collapse is sad reminder of the epidemic proportions of worker abuse going on Bangladesh.