The cost of cheap clothes

The burnt out corpses of the sewing machines all laid out in a grid, had the appearance of a graveyard. For many of the workers at Tazreen Fashions, that’s exactly what it was. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Bales of cotton on either side of the stairs were in flames that workers had to go through to escape the fire. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Stairs on either side of the huge hallway were the only exits to the factory. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Section of the 2nd floor. One of the two floors most badly affected by the fire. 3rd December. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The sign on the 2nd floor with instructions in case of fire, credits the German company KIK, one of the major buyers. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Rooms for the officers were also affected, but the ceiling fans on the 2nd floor had not shrivelled like the ones on the floor below. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

BGMEA the garment owner’s association had issued a certificate verifying the credentials of the fire fighting staff of Tazreen Fashions Ltd. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Quite apart from the fact that officers had sent back fleeing workers and told them to get back to work, not even the most rudimentary fire fighting equipment, like these buckets appear to have been used, despite the BGMEA certificate. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

The first aid box on the 2nd floor had also not been used. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

One of the many fire extinguishers that had not been used. 1st floor Tazreen Fashions. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

 
Unused hose pipe on stairway. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Marks made by workers on the soot on the staircase during the scramble to safety. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

More hand marks on the charred walls. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

While the work done and time keeping is meticulously monitored, similar rigour does not appear to have been applied to working conditions. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

C&A one of the major chainstores who buy clothes produced by Tazreen Fashions. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World


The cheap clothes that cost lives. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Garment workers had their own fashion needs. Artificial hair left behind as the owner tried to flee the fire. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Some tried to bend the metal window rods in a futile bid to escape. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Button and cord eyelets strewn on the floor. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

A sandal left behind. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

I first thought it was a water sprinkler and was impressed at the abundance across the floor. It was then that I realised this was the carcass of a ceiling fan. The marks on the ceiling were made by smoke as it flowed over the cracked paint. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

With the gates locked by the owners, many managed to break the windows to jump out from the tall building. A few survived. Nischintopur. Savar. Dhaka. Bangladesh. 3rd December 2012. ? Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

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Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

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