18th Karlsruhe Dialogues – Speakers

Brave New World? Labour Conditions in Bangladesh’s Textile Industries

Taslima Akhter 


Taslima Akhter

Taslima Akhter was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 1974. She is involved with workers’ and women’s organisations as an activist, and is working as a coordinator of ‘Bangladesh Garment Sromik Songhoti’ (the Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity). During her student life she was involved in student politics, and became the president of a left leaning student organisation named Bangladesh Students’ Federation. She wrote many articles on women’s and workers’ issues and translated writings of Alexandra Kollontai.

Akhter currently works as a photography tutor at the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. In 2013 she received the Best Photographer Award from the 5th Dali International Photography Exhibition in China. She completed a four weeks internship with Magnum Photos UK in 2012. In 2013 her work on the life and struggle of garment workers was exhibited in China and the USA, and in 2012 Courage organised the German exhibition of her work on garment workers. In 2011 she participated in the Tisch School of the Arts programme on human rights and photography at New York University as part of a Magnum Foundation scholarship she has received. In 2010, she won third prize in the documentary photography category of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award for her work on ‘The Life and Struggle of Garment Workers’.

Akhter completed a Master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Dhaka, followed by a photojournalism degree from the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute. Considering photography as a part of her activism, she chooses to work on workers’ struggle, gender-environmental-cultural issues, and the issues of social discrimination.



1. Does the world market society promote or prevent the achievement of global humanitarian living conditions?

The general view is that the world market society brings a large part of the world population into the market, generates a certain purchase capacity, creates job opportunities, and promotes a number of global values – all of which can, in combination, contribute to an improvement of people’s living conditions. But things are not as straightforward as they seem. When taking a closer look, the reality that presents itself tells a different story. A high degree of inequality is the inherent logic of a functioning world market society. As a consequence, it is often criticised for following the principle of growth at the expense of local economies. Thus the actual contribution of the world market society to the improvement of global humanitarian living conditions is debatable. Our experience in the Bangladeshi garment sector, which has also been shaped by recent incidents, challenges the idea of a positive relationship between these two and raises questions about the consequences.


2. How much privacy is left between state surveillance and commercial profiling and what is it worth to us?

I think in today’s world the privacy of the individual is shrinking day by day. This is obviously bound to have a greater implication on human freedom. As citizens we are always told about the security concerns of the state. We sacrifice our individual freedom. But I fail to see how this could make the life of the larger masses of the world more secure. Perhaps when we hear the word ‘security’ the implied meaning is the security of a few super-rich of the world at the cost of the freedom of the common.


3. Does the world market society lead to new forms of human trafficking or is it possible that it can become an opportunity for the enforcement of international standards for decent working conditions?

The market society can’t ensure decent working conditions by its own virtue. It depends on several factors, i.e., the awareness and action of the global population about the issue, the conscious effort of labour organisations and other social justice groups, the fight of workers’ movements for their right to safety, etc. If these factors are not given, the global demand of cheap labour can lead to new forms of human trafficking. If the conditions are however favourable to the cause of the working people, the opposite can happen.