Clothing is king in Bangladesh, a country that exports more garments than any other in the world except China.
It is responsible for four out of every five export dollars and has turned factory owners into members of parliament and leaders of sports clubs.
That power has been turned against the workers in those factories, especially those who complain about poor working conditions and pay that can be less than $40 a month. They are barred by law from forming trade unions and the Industrial Police deals ruthlessly with unrest in factories - it has been accused of murdering union organiser Aminul Islam in April 2012.
"The owners must treat the workers with respect. They should care about their lives and they must keep in mind that they are human beings," said Nazma Akhter, president of Combined Garment Workers Federation, in the aftermath of the fire that killed 112 people on Saturday at a factory that made T-shirts and polo shirts for Wal-Mart. "Is there anybody to really pay any heed to our words?"
This is the last in the many garment-factory fires in Bangladesh which claimed more than 300 deaths in the last six years. Saturday's fire - by far the deadliest - has finally drawn international attention to dubious labour practices at a time when the government is trying to encourage Western investment.
The Tazreen Fashions factory had no emergency exit, and workers trying to flee found the main exit locked. Fire extinguishers were left unused, either because they didn't work or workers didn't know how to use them. One survivor said that after the fire alarm went off managers told workers to get back to work.
Speaking to Dhaka's Daily Star the managing director of Tazreen Fashions said: "I'm concerned that my business with them (West) will be hampered," but typically there was no concern for the victims or their families.
Bangladesh garment industry earns $20 billion a year which amounts to 80 per cent of its total export earnings and making it a major contributor to country's $110bin GDP.
In 1982 the country had 47 garment factories, in 1985 587 and now 4,000.
The factory owners are a politically and economically powerful group, but the principal reason for their success is cheap labour.
Violent protest by workers early this year led to the doubling of the minimum wage to $38 a month. World Bank figures show per capita income in 2011 to be $64 a month.
On Tuesday Bangladesh held a day of mourning for the dead. "I've lost my son and the only member to earn for the family," said Nilufar Khatoon, the mother of a worker who died. "What shall I do now?"
Also Tuesday, about 2,000 members of 14 labour organisations held a rally in central Dhaka where leaders accused the government of neglecting the rights of garment workers.
A Wal-Mart spokesman said the Tazreen factory was making clothes for the retail giant without its knowledge. It had received an audit deeming the factory "high risk" last year and had decided to stop doing business with Tazreen, but a supplier subcontracted work to the factory anyway. That supplier's contract was terminated on Monday.
Many global buyers have been pressing Bangladesh to allow garment factories to form trade unions, but the government and industry have resisted.
Earlier this month, senior executives from more than two dozen global clothing brands and retailers visited Bangladesh in a bid to forge long-term agreements to source garments from its factories. In September, Karl-Johan Persson, chief executive of the Swedish retail chain H&M, visited Bangladesh and said his 2,600-store group would increase its business relationship with the country.
Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue - Bangladesh's leading independent think tank - said that Wesern buyers "talk about ethical buying and ethical sourcing, but when it comes to price they refuse to offer a good rate."
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia, blames a "nexus of influence" between senior government officials and factory owners that "allows impunity to flourish." Until that changes, he said, government vows to improve safety should be treated with scepticism.
"Six months or eight months down the road, if history is any indication, we will have another factory fire, and more workers will be killed," he added.
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