In one of the sweatshops that make clothes for brands like Gap and Walmart…
On the morning of Oct. 13, Taslima Aktar arrived at the gates of a Bangladeshi factory called Windy Apparels, in the industrial suburb of Ashulia, where she had been employed as a sewing operator for a year. For two weeks, the 23-year-old had complained of a fever and a hacking cough; her supervisor had refused her repeated requests for time off. Ten years in the garment industry had taught Taslima the costs of missing a day’s work without permission — especially before a big order had to be shipped out. As a young woman from the countryside, this job, at a large garment factory, was her only ticket out of rural poverty. Getting fired was simply not an option.
When she walked onto the factory floor that day, she already felt faint, but when she approached her line manager about going home early, he refused her again. Shortly afterward, she passed out and was rushed to the factory clinic, only to be sent back to her sewing machine. As the floor emptied out for lunch, she collapsed again. This time, she couldn’t be revived. Taslima was taken to the nearest hospital, where she was pronounced dead 10 minutes after being admitted. Her death certificate notes that she died of cardiac failure following “severe respiratory distress.”
Later that evening, her co-workers found her body stowed near the factory gates. They were told management was waiting for her husband to finish work at a nearby factory and pick up her corpse, one explained to me. “This is how little they value our lives,” said a colleague, who, along with a local labor advocate, Taslima’s mother, and other co-workers, reconstructed the events of the day. “We know the same thing can happen any day, to any of us.”