Last Night Shift in Savar: The Story of the Spectrum Sweater Factory Collapse by Doug Miller (review)
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Reviewed by
Doug Miller, Last Night Shift in Savar: The Story of the Spectrum Sweater Factory Collapse (Alnwick: McNidder and Grace 2012)

When Rana Plaza collapsed on 24 April 2013, the ready-made garment sector of Bangladesh witnessed the largest industrial disaster of its history to date; more than 1,130 garment workers were killed, and thousands more injured – workers producing everyday fashion and apparel products for export to European and North American markets, including Canada. Post-Rana Plaza, Bangladesh has witnessed unprecedented partnerships between foreign and local stakeholders, including labour unions, non-governmental organizations (ngos), lobbyists, activists, and companies through corporate social responsibility (csr) departments. The impact these global stakeholders will have on the industry in the future is so far undetermined, as the Rana Plaza tragedy marks neither the first time a building collapsed and killed garment workers in Bangladesh nor the first time diverse and divergent stakeholders have joined forces to support garment workers and deliver occupational health and safety relief schemes in the country.

In Last Night Shift in Savar: The Story of the Spectrum Sweater Factory Collapse, Doug Miller details the Spectrum Sweater factory building collapse that occurred on 11 April 2005, in Savar, a district in [End Page 329] Bangladesh just outside of Dhaka, killing 64 garment workers manufacturing garments for export. In the wake of Rana Plaza, the story of Spectrum reads like a work of fiction – an ominous tale, foreshadowing an industrial disaster of unimaginable size as a warning of consequence for industry stakeholders working within Bangladesh. This story is not fiction, however, and lessons learned were not sufficient to prevent future disasters within the country’s ready-made garment sector.

The account unfolds through eight detailed chapters, with both a timeline and list of abbreviations as a roadmap for the reader. Connecting the “sweated labour” of today’s global apparel supply chains to European weaving mills of the 19th century, the book opens with a general overview on the development of the garment sector in Bangladesh. Here, the Spectrum sweater factory is framed within the context of an ever-growing buyer-driven industry with unrealistic production lead times required to keep up with consumer demand. The book then moves to detail the night of the building collapse and outline factory operations at Spectrum. From this, the author unpacks the state of occupational health and safety for garment workers in Bangladesh, and overviews the factory compliance strategies of buyers working within the sector at the time of the disaster. Before outlining the post-collapse efforts of organizations located outside of Bangladesh working toward an international solidarity labour movement in support of Bangladeshi garment workers, the author details how the region’s civil society groups and individuals mobilized for increased labour rights and worker compensation in the wake of the disaster. Both of these sections highlight the many roadblocks facing organised labour within the sector. What follows from there is an overview of the three relief schemes that emerged from the disaster, and the challenges they faced in implementing garment labour compensation in Bangladesh. The author expertly questions the long-term impact outside csr schemes can have on the sector as a whole.

The book is a remarkable contribution to the literature on the labour rights of garment workers in Bangladesh and to that on csr. The author successfully moves beyond simply detailing an account of the sequence of events that occurred leading up to and after the collapse; he effectively humanizes the entire global apparel industry supply chain. The book also tells the story of the individuals who worked, and continue to work, tirelessly to support the victims and their families to ensure global fashion and apparel companies are held accountable for the health and safety of the garment workers making their clothing. In addition, the reader comes away better equipped to conceptualize what it meant to work the nightshift at Spectrum, and to understand how industry stakeholders are connected to the worker on the factory floor with respect to occupational health and safety. However, and perhaps most significantly, the author pays tribute to the victims of the Spectrum factory collapse, as well as to all those...