Monica Ali’s Brick Lane After Rana Plaza – Book Review

I’ve just reviewed Monica Ali‘s Brick Lane for Paste magazine. Have a look!

 

<i>Brick Lane</i> by Monica Ali Review

“Almost 14 months after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in DhakaBangladesh, the debate surrounding the global garment factory industry shows no sign of abating.

The April 24, 2013, collapse killed more than 1,100 people and injured more than 2,500—making it the world’s worst industrial structure failure. Most victims were women. Most were poor. I happened to be nearby that day, but I kept a respectful distance. The rescue workers didn’t need a white guy poking his nose into the nation’s rubble.

Recently, American Apparel’s controversial “Made in Bangladesh” campaign stoked the debate about working conditions in the nation. Ads show a bare-breasted girl—Maks is her name—as the embodiment of modern Bangladeshi feminism. The campaign generated praise and condemnation in equal measure around the world. If nothing else, it reminded media that Bangladesh still exists.

Similarly, the BBC produced an exposé-style documentary from Bangladesh earlier this year, reminding viewers how the abuse and exploitation of young and vulnerable girls continue in seedy garment factories. These sweatshops produce 60 percent of Europe’s apparel exports and 40 percent of America’s. Such media attention does nothing to improve the reputation of Bangladesh.

I couldn’t help but consider all of this as I read Monica Ali’s award-winning debut novel Brick Lane. Set on and around the events of 9/11, Brick Lane primarily focuses on life in Britain for Nazneen, the protagonist. This poor, non-English-speaking Muslim Bangladeshi girl has been brought to Britain for an arranged marriage.”

Read the rest of this review here

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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6 Responses to Monica Ali’s Brick Lane After Rana Plaza – Book Review

  1. Buyers who want the lowest price prefer to ignore the fact that manufacturers and/or sellers may be achieving these low prices by:
    a. compromising on quality of the product, and/or
    b. stealing raw materials and/or electricity, and/or
    c. evading taxes and/or
    d. reducing manufacturing costs by engaging cheap (maybe slave) labour and/or by providing unsafe working conditions that lack even the bare minimum amenities.

    On the other hand, I have seen how companies from USA/Europe/Japan buying engineering parts from India insist that suppliers must comply to all safety and environmental norms and have proper housekeeping, conduct an audit before placing the first order, conduct annual audits and sometimes random audits with one day’s notice. As a result, working conditions have improved significantly in many engineering parts manufacturing companies.

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    • I suspect though – forgive me if I’ve made an incorrect assumption – that there are many more men in those engineering companies. I think one of the main reasons for the state in the garment industry isn’t actually the just the greed which keeps labour cheap. It’s that the labour is mostly women. It is gender power which affects the industry more than anything else. Which is why inspectors rarely see what is really going on in the factories because the women are bullied to keep their mouths shut. You can’t change what you can’t see…

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      • A few years back, there were mostly men in these companies. Over the last few years, for a variety of reasons, a significant number of women has entered the workforce in many of these companies.

        I’m not sure the gender of the workforce is the point here. For example, if the norms specify a certain ratio of washrooms to workers, the inspector, who is usually an Indian (or person of Indian origin) employed by the international inspection agency, personally counts the number of washrooms and checks the water supply, cleanliness levels, etc..

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        • I think gender is the entire point to be honest. It doesn’t matter what the facilities are, it’s all about the attitude. Where there are men, there is a potentially more aggressive power which can rise up and threaten those who are in charge. But women present no such risk.

          In Bangladesh there are many industries, many businesses but I know of almost none where the workforce are so beaten down and work in such terrible conditions as the women of the garment factories (and possibly the women who work as domestic maids – again posing no risk if they are subdued).

          The only male workforce I can think of who have similar hardships are those of the rickshaws. But then the vast majority of drivers and police force in Bangladesh are male and here it is a similar power status situation as a result. As a man you can get out of your car and beat the poor rickshaw wallah who has just displeased you for some reason and no police officer will stop you. If anything he’ll join in and then make the wallah pay a bribe to him for the trouble of having to the beat the poor chap! But here the social status is much further apart than you find in other male-oriented industries.

          In a sense, women and rickshaw wallahs, because of who their overlords are, are effectively the same. It’s not so much the material conditions which matter as such as the attitudes towards these people which need to change. Until they do, oppression will continue.

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  2. Yes working for many years in the garment industry in textiles my self in the past, I fully appreciate what ‘Sweat-shops’ are out there.. I just hoped through this tragedy more awareness would be brought to how cheap garments also mean very cheap labour…

    I worked my way up from machinists at 15 yrs of age..on the shop floor to then working with designers and first concept designs to become head of training.. As the industry grew in the UK so did its greed, so many factories took their business of manufacture overseas ..The factory I worked in was no exception… But they set up two factories in Sri Lanka, and it was part of my own job to over sea training and set up equivalent of NVQ’s in Machining .. I can honestly say both those factories were better equipped than those in the UK and air-conditioned in new Units on industrial sites…
    You would think people would learn.. Yet Profits often comes before People, I see it so many times..

    The Book sounds a very interesting read..

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    • Thanks for sharing your experiences! Yes, the book is excellent although not without its critics. For me, I found it a delightful and honest book which breathed the Bangladesh I know and love.

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