Yesterday we visited a garment factory shipping a relatively small batch of clothes to a boutique Italian clothing firm. About a year ago a garment factory collapsed outside of Dhaka near Savar, west of the city. That event marked a surge in interest on the part of the international community and western consumers as to the supply chain and conditions of workers for their cheaply imported clothing. Our visit coincided with inspections given by officials from the EU. Both the EU and the US have preferred trading status with Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh government prioritizes exports as a driver of their economy. The factory we visited produced t-shirts and undershirts, spooling thread into cloth before sending it off site to get dyed, and bringing it back for cutting, sewing and packaging. Company offices were onsite, and a small daycare could be found on the second floor. The building was seven or eight stories tall and had an exterior emergency exit (which might pass local code but wouldn’t in the US. Safety and working conditions were on the minds of everyone, students, management, probably the workers too.
On this visit and others throughout this week I have felt that the presence of westerners, each with a camera taking numerous pictures, was oppressive and intrusive. Westerners is not the right word. We as a group represent Americans, Chinese and our Bangladeshi guides. Throughout the trip people seemed either apathetic or genuinely excited about getting their picture taken, but in this particular work session no permission was needed. But it still amazes me how easily a camera can both capture a moment and instantly make the operator feel like a stranger, a foreigner, a tourist.