A former Church of Scotland Moderator is leading the charge for better rights and safer working conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers in the run up to Christmas and the winter sales.
The Church of Scotland and an alliance of British churches and other agencies have united to help end the many injustices faced by the garment workers.
In April 2013, the world watched in horror as rescuers struggled to free survivors from the rubble of a collapsed eight-storey building in Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Six months previously, 117 people perished in a factory fire, also on the outskirts of Dhaka. The dead in both disasters were mainly garment workers making clothes for western consumers.
The Very Rev John Christie, in his year as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, was deeply affected by the plight of garment workers and the injustices they face daily during a visit to Bangladesh.
It was in 2010 following a fire at a garment factory in Ashulia after Mr Christie returned to Scotland that he realised that he had probably driven past the factory at some point in his visit. Twenty eight people who perished in the blaze – mostly women – were named.
Mr Christie was appalled to learn afterwards that naming the victims in such fires was unusual because they are so common they scarcely merit a mention. Mr Christie spoke out about the injustices faced by Bangladeshi garment workers at the General Assembly in May to spur the Church of Scotland into action to do all it can to prevent other such disasters and help those affected.
Mr Christie has put his weight behind the campaign, the aim of which is to mobilise church members and others in the United Kingdom, America and Canada to lobby retailers and politicians to improve wages, safety and working conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers.
It follows action by Bishop Paul Sarker, Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh, to support the injured and bereaved families after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Savar. The Church of Bangladesh is attempting to do something about the problems faced by the garment workers.
Mr Christie said: “We are not going to go in as white knights and say ‘this is how you have to do it.’ If the rest of us support Bishop Paul and the Church of Bangladesh in what they are doing we have an opportunity for a positive step. Churches can do far more together than separately and by acting together we can work towards improving health and safety conditions and thus the quality of life for the many Bangladeshi garment factory workers. Together we are seeking justice for the garment workers and their families which are heavily dependent on them.”
The churches alliance working alongside the Church of Bangladesh consists of the Church of Scotland (World Mission Council), the Anglican Alliance, the Diocese of Llandaff (the Church in Wales), the Church Mission Society, the Methodist Church in Britain, the United Society (US), as well as the Presbyterian Church of the Netherlands.