Capitalism is Working Bangladeshi Women To Death

On the 13th of May, the Bangladeshi army announced that it had ended its search for survivors of the Rana Plaza garments factory collapse in Dhaka three weeks ago that tragically claimed the loss of more than 1100 lives, most of them women. The heartbreaking tragedy once again highlighted the exploitation of women by the garment and other multinational corporations in the country as the building housed five garment factories making cheap clothes for Western brands and shops such as Primark.

The sad reality is that this tragedy was not just an accident – it was an accident waiting to happen because of companies that take advantage of low standards or regulations to run their business as cheaply as possible for maximum profit, regardless of the dangers or safety considerations. The eight-story plaza collapsed a day after warnings had been given that the building was unsafe – warnings that were ignored for the sake of financial gain by both the factory owners and Western retailers who benefited from the cheap clothes manufactured at the site.

Bangladesh is the second largest garment maker in the world with around 4 million workers, the majority women who work in appalling, unhygienic, dangerous conditions within factories where many develop chest and health problems due to the polluted atmosphere in buildings that can only be described as potential “death traps.” Many of these factories have blocked or non-existent fire-exits and have been built on shaky foundations with shoddy material such as substandard bricks and cement to cut costs.

Although the Rana Plaza tragedy is Bangladesh’s worst industrial accident, 900 people have died since 2005 in fires in the country’s garment industry. In November 2012, a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in the Ashulia district of Bangladesh killed 112 people, many of whom were women. It was reported that prior to the fire in this factory which makes clothes for Walmart, the company had decided that it would not pay for safety improvements in the building as it was too expensive to cover. Even following the fire, Western clothing brands and retailers continued to reject a union-sponsored proposal to improve safety throughout Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry. Instead, companies expanded a patchwork system of private audits and training that labor groups say improves very little in a country where official inspections are lax and factory owners have close relations with the government.

The deplorable physical state of factories is not the only aspect of oppressive working conditions that female garment workers in Bangladesh are subjected to. They face the most atrocious levels of exploitation, working long hours for a meager income. Charles Kernaghan of U.S.-based Global Labour and Human Rights described Dickensian conditions in the sweatshops of Bangladesh as being the lowest wages in the world. Some work for 5p an hour, sometimes working all seven days and 96 hours a week – in order that multi-billion businesses such as Walmart, Tescos, Asda, and Primark can produce cut-price clothes for Western and foreign markets at the cheapest, minimal rate and hence ensure maximum profit. Infact, at one time, Walmart lobbied against a proposed rise in the minimum wage in Bangladesh to $43 a month for garment factory workers, due to the increase in financial costs they would incur.

Workers who protest at conditions or try to organize themselves against their unjust treatment are often beaten. Such dangerous, exploitative, and back-breaking working conditions of Bangladeshi women, clearly means nothing to these giant blood sucking corporations. As, Harry Taylor, chief executive officer at the Mark’s clothier owned by Canadian Tire, which works with about 10 to 15 factories in Bangladesh said, “We’re pursuing cost, quality and timeliness.”

Many news outlets like the BBC, CNN and CBC have reported that the EU is considering “appropriate action” to encourage improved working conditions in Bangladesh factories, including using the Generalized System of Preferences, which gives Bangladesh duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market. It was reported that the European Union called upon the Bangladeshi authorities to act immediately to ensure that factories across the country comply with international labour standards according to a statement issued by EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht. However, such calls, actions and statements by the EU, the Bangladesh government and other Western states are as usual only an eye wash in response to the public anger and despair manifested for example in the May Day protests by labourers and workers across the country.

This is because the Bangladesh government, EU and other Western states fail to acknowledge that it is the Capitalist system and ideology that bears a large responsibility for the Rana Plaza tragedy. The philosophy of the capitalist ideology places seeking the material value and securing financial gain and capital as the main aim of life and the dominant aspect of a society. This nurtures a mindset within local businessmen as well as foreign corporations where making huge profits is the main concern, no matter the human or societal cost, even if that means working women like bonded slaves.

Under this materialistic system, women are simply viewed as tools to use to increase revenue for companies and governments, often torn away from their children and families in order to make a living, rather than dignified beings that deserve financial security and to be financially maintained and supported in fulfilling their vital role as mothers and wives, nurturing and educating effectively the future generation.

Furthermore, it is the failed and exploitative economic policies and principles of this system, including its interest-based and free-market model of finance that has plunged Bangladesh and many other countries into severe debt as well as concentrated wealth in the hands of the few while plunging the masses into desperate poverty. This has caused millions of women to accept to work in these appalling conditions for appalling wages in order just to survive and fulfill their basic needs of food clothing, and shelter. Almost all of the women working in these garment and other factories across Bangladesh and also in Pakistan, India and across the subcontinent have the same stories of hunger, poverty and illness. Some had obtained an interest-based loan from a village lord to pay their expenses for daily basic needs or healthcare and had to work in order to repay the interest.

Capitalism also professes the concept of freedom of ownership under which big corporations are free to buy and own public assets like water, oil, gas and electricity, resulting in the masses being robbed of their own resources, which they can only buy at a very high rate due to these companies charging extortionate prices to secure extortionate levels of profit. This increases the cost of living, forcing millions of women to work in these atrocious conditions for meager incomes.

In addition, under this exploitative capitalist system, trade liberalization and the deregulation of various trade rules through destructive IMF and World Bank agreements has allowed multinational corporations to do business in Bangladesh, Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world at low production costs and exploit cheap labour for huge profits. Alongside this, under this system, a close relationship exists between wealthy local and foreign business owners and the ruling elite who sign these oppressive trade agreements, sell off vital assets, and allow companies to attain control over the resources of the state and operate with impunity in their lands.

The rulers and governments of the Muslim lands therefore facilitate the exploitation and enslavement of women within their states by big business, often turning a blind eye to evasions of building and other trade regulations for a cut of their profits or large commissions.

Hence, capitalism and the Muslim governments that implement it has caused the 21st century enslavement of women in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other parts of the Muslim world and is driving them to their deaths for the sake of financial gain, while also deceptively spinning this economic and physical oppression as ‘women’s empowerment through employment’. Indeed, lack of care of human life, dignity and wellbeing for the sake of securing profit margins is the defining characteristic of this capitalist system whose free-market economy has created a modern day slave-market of women.

Until this system, along with the rulers and regimes that impose it on our Muslim lands are removed, it is highly likely that there may be many more major industrial disasters to come in Bangladesh or in other parts of the Muslim world of the likes of the Rana Plaza tragedy.

The world needs a new system, a new economic and social model, a new ruling and judicial system and a new foreign and education policy to get rid of this slavery of human beings by other human beings. It is the Islamic system implemented by the Khilafah state that embodies the values, principles, and laws to liberate the women of Bangladesh and the entire Muslim world from this slavery and create for them a safer, dignified, and prosperous future.

It is Islam alone that promotes a culture where people are slaves to Allah and His Commands and not slaves to their desires or the dollar. Hence it generates a society that shuns exploitation in all its forms, and where the pursuit of profit and the material value does not dominate the minds of individuals or the state. It is a system where legislation is from Allah (swt) alone, and so laws cannot be manipulated by the rich and powerful to secure their interests or those of the wealthy.

The Khilafah is a system that has come to serve the needs of humanity and not the elite few, reflected in its rejection of interest that creates a one-track flow of money to those with wealth at the expense of the masses. It is a system where human life, honour and dignity is given preference over production and profits; where making cheap products at the cost of human lives, health, and safety is not tolerated; and that has harsh punishments for all types of oppression. And it is a system that does not view the woman as a money-making machine but a dignified human being that should be provided for always, either by her male relatives or the state as obliged by Islam such that she can fulfil her important primary role as a mother and wife.

 ((ٱلرِّجَالُ قَوَّٲمُونَ عَلَى ٱلنِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعۡضَهُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُواْ مِنۡ أَمۡوَٲلِهِمۡ‌ۚ))

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means.” [TMQ An-Nisa 4:34]

Furthermore, the Khilafah is a system where the state is obliged under Divine Law to provide the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare to all its citizens, and be the guardian over the destitute, abandoned and widows who have no family. The Prophet (saw) said,

“أَنَا أَوْلَى بِكُلِّ مُؤْمِنٍ مِنْ نَفْسِهِ ؛ مَنْ تَرَكَ مَالاً فَلأَهْلِهِ، وَمَنْ تَرَكَ دَيْنًا أَوْ ضَيَاعًا فَإِلَىَّ وَعَلَيّ” [رواه مسلم]

If somebody dies (among the Muslims) leaving some property, the property will go to his heirs; and if he leaves a debt or dependents, we will take care of them.”

And it is a state that implements a sound economic system based on sound policies and laws that ensure the fair distribution of wealth and the creation of economic prosperity.

((كَىۡ لَا يَكُونَ دُولَةَۢ بَيۡنَ ٱلۡأَغۡنِيَآءِ مِنكُمۡ‌))
Lest it circulates solely among the wealthy from amongst you.” [TMQ Al-Hashr 59:7]

These policies and laws includes the prohibition of privatisation of oil, gas and water such that all citizens share in their benefit and revenue; the prohibition of monopolies and the hoarding of wealth; a low taxation system which encourages spending and investment in business, increasing economic prosperity and job production; the collection of zakat from those with excess wealth and spent upon the poor; a productive agricultural policy to ensure land is used effectively; and heavy investment in manufacturing, industry, agriculture, education, healthcare, and development of the infrastructure of the state – all of which aids the creation of employment opportunities and elevation in standard of living of individuals.

Under this Khilafah system, historically women were given full opportunities to be employers and employees, own businesses, farm lands, invest their wealth, and own properties as ordained by Islam. And they will enjoy such rights again InshaAllah in the soon to be established second Khilafah Rashidah. But importantly, women will work through choice, not force, and enjoy strict employment rights and a fair wage, working in a safe environment. Until and unless this Islamic system that applies the Laws of Allah (swt) is implemented, the women of Bangladesh and across the Muslim world will continue to face oppression, hardship, poverty, exploitation, and death at the hands of their capitalist and other non-Islamic systems.

O Muslim women! O beloved daughters of Islam! We call you to support the dawah of Hizb ut Tahrir to establish this noble Khilafah state that will be led InshaAllah by the eminent scholar, politician, and Amir of Hizb ut Tahrir, Sheikh Ata bin Khalil Abu Al-Rashtah who as your Khalifah will carry your economic burdens on his back and strive to ensure that you enjoy a life of financial security, cared and provided for always, lifting from you the heavy burden of earning your own living, so that you should not struggle a single day to feed yourself and your family, implementing fully the Deen of Islam which alone carries the solution to your economic, political, and societal woes. Allah (swt) says,

((فَإِمَّا يَأۡتِيَنَّڪُم مِّنِّى هُدً۬ى فَمَنِ ٱتَّبَعَ هُدَاىَ فَلَا يَضِلُّ وَلَا يَشۡقَىٰ ١٢٣ وَمَنۡ أَعۡرَضَ عَن ذِڪۡرِى فَإِنَّ لَهُ ۥ مَعِيشَةً۬ ضَنكً۬ا وَنَحۡشُرُهُ ۥ يَوۡمَ ٱلۡقِيَـٰمَةِ أَعۡمَىٰ))
 “Whoever follows My Guidance shall neither go astray, nor fall into distress and misery. But whoever turns away from My Reminder (That is, neither believes in the Qur’an nor acts on its orders) verily, for him is a life of hardship, and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection.” [TMQ Ta-Ha: 123-124]

Umm Musab
Member of The Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir