Gazi Nafis Ahmed’s photographs of clothing factory workers in Bangladesh reveal some of the grinding poverty and ever-present dangers they face day after day. Nafis is an alumni of Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and in the VII Mentor Program
Khadija is cradling her 12-hour-old baby in her arms. All she wants, she tells photographer Gazi Nafis Ahmed, is for her daughter to have a better life than she has had: which means enough food, shelter, education and healthcare.
The garment factory worker is just one of countless men and women whose lives Ahmed has documented in the past four years for his poignant series of pictures, entitled Made in Bangladesh.
Although the fashion they create fills our high-street shops, Bangladeshi workers are among the lowest-paid in the industry anywhere in the world, and they often have to toil in terrifying conditions.
This week the country is reeling from the collapse of the Rana plaza – an eight-storey building in which garment workers were apparently forced to work despite warnings it was unsafe, had large cracks in its walls and the police had ordered that it should be evacuated. So far at least 377 people are thought to have died.
But the latest tragedy is just one in a long line of disasters that have claimed the lives of Bangladeshi clothing workers. In November last year112 workers burned alive in a factory with no fire exits. In 2010 27 people died and more than 100 were injured in a fire in a factory that made clothes for high-street retailer Gap.
Yet Ahmed’s work highlights the less eye-catching dangers, too. One picture shows the aftermath of a boiler explosion that injured six people, and another the grinding poverty that keeps six members of one family living in a bamboo hut. One woman, pictured staring bleakly at the camera, explains how she was forced to hide in the toilet for two days by her employers in case buyers who had come to inspect the factory she works in discovered she was pregnant. Later she was sacked instead of being given maternity pay.