This Wednesday, April 9, Boston College's chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is hosting Aklima Khanam. A survivor of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that claimed the lives of over 1,100 Bangladeshi garment workers on April 24, 2013, Khanam will speak about her experience in order to raise awareness about working conditions in factories. The event will be at 7:30 p.m. in McGuinn 121.
It is rare that students are offered the opportunity to hear the story of someone who has lived through such a terrible disaster, and her account will reveal the deep injustice of this tragedy. She will shed light on the events leading up to the collapse. The very day before, there had been an evacuation, but workers were forced to go back to the work site, for fear of losing their jobs. Khanamn was stuck for two days in the rubble, in and out of consciousness; a true life or death situation.
Achilles Aiken, A&S '14, founded BC's own USAS this year, and has dedicated his time to “ending deathtraps,” which is the current mission of USAS. He believes the issue of sweatshops, specifically in Bangladesh, is so important for BC students because, “as consumers, as individuals and as an institution [we] are very much a part of the problem. Through us purchasing from these companies, we are very much contributing to working conditions.”
USAS has hosted various events this year, including a six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy to raise awareness on campus. Another major goal of the organization is to get BC to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord, which would make all companies manufacturing in Bangladesh accountable for the working conditions, and force them to pay for necessary renovations.
Students who want to contribute to USAS’s goals can help by petitioning BC to sign the safety accord, as well as purchasing Alta Gracia clothing from the BC bookstore. Alta Gracia pays its workers a living wage in the Dominican Republic, and it’s a very tangible way to consume consciously.
“People have a basic right to work in a place where their lives won’t be put in jeopardy,” said Aiken. Although this task of improving working conditions in a far off country such as Bangladesh may seem daunting, Aiken encourages students to think of their own ability to make a change. “Because it depends on our purchasing as consumers, we can be empowered to make a change,” said Aiken.
Students interested in USAS and those who would like to get more involved can attend meetings, which are on Thursdays in Gasson 301 at 7 p.m. This event is happening next Wednesday, and there will also be a one-year anniversary vigil of the Rana Plaza collapse on April 24.