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TheStreet Open House

Dreams Turn Bitter For Bangladeshi Garment Workers

By CHRIS BLAKE

TEKANI, Bangladesh (AP) â¿¿ Moushumi's family now has one of the largest homes in their village â¿¿ two bedrooms plus a living area with walls made of sturdy brick. Her father and brother will soon have a small business out front, selling furniture her dad will make. There will be money to pay for her younger sister to get married when it's time.

It is the dream of nearly every Bangladeshi garment worker to earn enough money to build such a life back in their village. Yet for most it remains just that: Wages are so low they can find themselves struggling to eat, let alone save.

And in the case of Moushumi's family, the dream has been bitterly corrupted, made possible not by the opportunity the garment industry provided, but by the tragedy it inflicted.

Moushimi, who like many people in Bangladesh used only one name, was just 18 when she was killed along with 111 others trapped behind the locked gates of the Tazreen garment factory when it burned last November. Her family renovated their home using the 600,000 takas ($7,700) they received in compensation.

A fortune in a poor village like Tekani in Bangladesh's far northwest, it is one the family would gladly return tomorrow to have Moushumi back.

"Previously we didn't have money but we had peace in our mind. We had a complete family," said her mother, Hawa Begum. "The peace is no longer there."

Since the fire and April's collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building, which killed 1,129 people, Bangladesh's garment industry has been under increased pressure from workers and activists to raise wages and improve working conditions.

The government agreed last month to set up a committee to look into raising the minimum wage of $38 a month. Rather than talking of luxuries like buying land, those advocating for higher salaries speak of getting enough calories. They say the current rate isn't close to what workers need to pay their bills and eat properly.

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