Joan Smith in the Independent on Sunday writes:
The roots of this scandal lie in a globalised economy where western shopping habits – for food and clothes alike – are disconnected from the manner of production. The fashion-conscious young have been persuaded by clever marketing to think that clothes should be cheap and disposable, just as poor families came to believe that eight nutritious burgers could be made for £1. It remains to be seen whether the horsemeat scare will change consumer behaviour in the long term, but there’s no comparable outcry about the plight of Asian garment workers.
With four million workers in the garment industry in Bangladesh, (http://www.bgmea.com.bd ) the implications of the horrendous incident at Rana Plaza where hundreds were killed and injured highlights the need for consumer awareness, fairtrade and corporate responsibility.
“The deaths as a result of the collapsed building in Bangladesh were a tragedy but not an accident,” says Murray Worthy from the charity War on Want. He argues that the level of neglect and lack of regulation in the industry led to the disaster at the factory.
It happened just five months after a fire at the Bangladeshi firm Tazreen Fashions in which more than 100 people were killed.
Campaigners say that the rapid expansion of the industry over the past few years played a large role in this incident.
It is a common occurrence for buildings to see illegal floors added, according to Sam Mahers from Labour Behind the Label. In this case, one minister alleged that the whole building was illegally constructed.
“Many of these buildings are a death trap, often with no proper escape routes. So while this incident is shocking it is not surprising,” Ms Mahers says.
Labour Behind the Label is part of a campaign pushing for retailers to sign up to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement.
It argues for action that includes independent building inspections, training in workers’ rights and “a long-overdue review of safety standards”. So far, Germany’s Tchibo and America’s PVH Corp (owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger) have signed it.
Employees in Bangladeshi factories are mainly women and conditions can be harsh, unions say. Although they are contracted to work eight hours a day, if an important order comes in workers are often forced to work up to 18 hours in a day, or on their day off, to finish the job. ” (BBC coverage, article - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22296645 )
The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) has continuously pressured for improved conditions since 1989; in a recent statement they urged brands to sign Safety Agreement following the Rana Plaza disaster:
“The total compensation figure is likely to be over US$30 million in addition to the cost of emergency treatment. The death toll, already over 300, seems likely to increase dramatically as media reports indicate that 1000 people are still unaccounted for. Our local partners have expressed concern that mismanagement and incorrect accounting by the authorities means that some deaths are not being recorded on the list of deceased.
The CCC is contacting all brands whose names are linked to one of the five factories that were producing in the building to verify details of their production.
Five brands have confirmed current or recent production: Bon Marche (UK), El Corte Ingles (Spain), Primark (UK/Ireland), Mango (Spain) and Joe Fresh (clothing line at Loblaw’s, Canada’s largest supermarket chain).
A number of other brands are linked to the factory through import data, labels and other documentation found at the site by local activists of other brands producing in one of the factories, including Benetton (Italy), Cato Fashions (USA), Children’s Place (USA), Carrefour (France). So far all deny production or failed to respond.
The CCC calls on all buyers to step forward immediately and to make sure that every effort is taken to minimise the pain and suffering of the people involved and prevent further deaths.
Ineke Zeldenrust from Clean Clothes Campaign says: “Brands can no longer justify any further delay in signing the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement. Since Tazreen, where 112 people died, brands have come up with insufficient proposals such as safety videos (H&M) or a safety academy (WalMart). How much safety does a video provide, when floors collapse or emergency exits do not exist? Workers need a structural solution, not a quick-fix. The lack of action demonstrated by brands amounts to criminal negligence.”
Letter to the Observer 28 April 2013
The factory collapse in Bangladesh will have pricked the conscience of many a business that relies on cheap labour in developing countries to keep down the costs of production. We hope the tragedy brings about a sharper focus on occupational health and safety, in which organisations recognise their moral duty to protect workers from harm no matter where they are in the supply chain.
Institution of Occupational Safety & Health
Moving forward and changing the industry - it’s up to you:
Labour behind the label (http://www.labourbehindthelabel.org) fifth annual ‘Let’s Clean Up Fashion’ report produced in 2011 emphasizes some key principles for improvement in the industry:
1 Taking a collaborative approach
A large number of brands and retailers in the UK are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a collaborative body of companies, trade unions and civil society organisations (referred to here as NGOs). Membership of a multi-stakeholder initiative (MSI) such as the ETI, however, is not necessarily a clear indicator of good collaboration or effective projects. Burberry, Gap, Tesco, Sainsbury and Fat Face are all members of the ETI, but made disappointing submissions. Another ETI brand, Debenhams, refused to provide any information for this report. It is notable, though, that those brands with the most in-depth projects were all ETI members (Monsoon, Next, M&S).
2 Worker organising and freedom of association
3 Examining commercial factors: paying the cost
It is widely acknowledged that there is a huge gap between prevailing wages for garment workers and even the lowest estimates of a living wage. Therefore, any attempt to ensure all workers receive a living wage will impact on production costs and could mean suppliers have to charge more for their goods. Any serious living wage programme needs to identify how these cost increases will be covered and by whom.
4 Rolling it out: developing a route-map for sustaining a living wage.
Any route map for change must include benchmarks that identify what constitutes success. It is vital for brands and retailers to provide clear targets for what they believe a living wage level should be in each country they buy from. Such benchmarks are controversial and continue to be a source of debate. However, unless brands tell consumers and workers what wage levels they are aiming to implement, their work will not deliver a living wage for all workers. To date only M&S claims to have identified living wage benchmarks for its primary production countries: Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh. Yet a year after making a commitment to pay a ‘fair living wage’ to workers in these countries by 2015, the company has not published these figures
Download the full Labour behind the label report with summaries of UK retailers level of commitment .
Are shoppers willing to pay?
The BBC interviewed shoppers following the disaster (video)
Sign the petition - Demand safety for Bangladeshi workers
“It’s unbelievable that brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions from existing. Tragedy after tragedy shows that corporate-controlled monitoring is completely inadequate,” says Tessel Pauli from Clean Clothes Campaign.
She adds: “Right now the families of the victims are grieving and the community is in shock. But they, and the hundreds injured in the collapse, are without income and without support. Immediate relief and longterm compensation must be provided by the brands who were sourcing from these factories, and responsibility taken for their lack of action to prevent this happening.”
To stop these collapses from happening, the Clean Clothes Campaign calls upon brands sourcing from Bangladesh to sign on to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement immediately. The CCC, together with local and global unions and labour rights organisations has developed a sector-wide program for action that includes independent building inspections, worker rights training, public disclosure and a long-overdue review of safety standards. It is transparent as well as practical, and unique in being supported by all key labour stakeholders in Bangladesh and internationally.
The agreement was already signed last year by the US company PVH Corp (owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger) and the German retailer Tchibo. The labour signatories are now calling on all major brands sourcing in the industry to sign on to the initiative in order to ensure its rapid implementation. The programme has the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers currently at risk in unsafe and illegally built factories.
CCC has been campaigning on safety issues in Bangladesh since the collapse of the Spectrum factory in 2005, which left 64 people dead and involved high street brand Zara.
Call on Retailers to compensate
A petition drawn up by the National Garment Workers’ Federation, which called on Primark, Matalan and Mango to pay compensation to victims’ families and to sign up to the Bangladesh fire and building safety agreement to prevent future deaths of garment workers.
The UK high street retailer Primark and Canadian counterpart Loblaws have announced they will compensate the victims of last week’s collapse of a Bangladeshi factory complex where suppliers of some of their clothing lines were located.
Avaaz have a petition
To the CEOs of H&M, GAP, and other fashion brands:
As citizens and consumers, we urge you to immediately sign an enforceable Bangladesh fire and building safety agreement, or risk fatal damage to your brand image. The agreement must commit you to pay for routine, independent inspections and safety upgrades for your supplier factories. Your companies and other multinationals profit from cheap labour, and can do much more to reduce the dangers of the places where your products are made.