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May 8, 2013

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Bangladesh disaster prompts renewed international action

A UK-based alliance comprising garment firms, trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is stepping up efforts to tackle the chronic health and safety issues affecting Bangladeshi textile workers, in the wake of the country’s worst industrial disaster.

Rana plaza collapseThe collapse of the Rana Plaza factory, near Dhaka, in April has so far claimed the lives of more than 700 workers, with more bodies still being recovered. Exploitation of and absence of protection for people working for minimal wages has caused anger to swell, with international buyers facing accusations of failing to pay enough attention to health and safety and worker rights.

Last week the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) announced it is working with a number of international agencies, clothing brands and trade unions to finalise an agreement on fire and building safety. It builds on work that began in November last year, following the Tazreen Fashions factory fire on the outskirts of Dhaka, which cost more than 100 lives and injured more than 200.

ETI members sourcing from Bangladesh, alongside member trade unions and NGOs, have committed to:

  • adopt a common approach to address fire and building safety in the garment sector in Bangladesh;
  • support the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Bangladesh to continue to bring local stakeholders together for the effective implementation of the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety for the RMG Sector in Bangladesh (NAP);
  • make their support for the NAP explicitly clear, with the efforts of all projects, programmes, business fire and building safety activity linked to, or complementing the NAP;
  • continue with factory improvement actions, be they infrastructural, policy, systems and processes, or skills and competencies to meet an agreed minimum standard of fire and building safety for factories in the sector; and
  • strengthen the mandated Health and Safety Committees in all factories in which improvements are being made, to promote meaningful dialogue between genuine worker representatives and management, in support of greatly improved fire and building safety.

ETI director Peter McAllister said: “Bangladesh is a key sourcing country for a significant number of our garment-sector members, which have strong and long-standing relationships with this country. Together with our company, trade union and NGO members, we are committed to driving real, sustainable change for workers by tackling the chronic, widespread health and safety issues that plague Bangladesh’s garment sector.”€ᄄ

The International Labour Organisation and IndustriALL union are expected to back the international agreement, which is likely to be announced soon after 15 May. It includes principles on governance, inspections, remediation, training, a complaints process, transparency and reporting, supplier incentives, financial support and dispute resolution.€ᄄ €ᄄ

Concluded McAllister: “Bangladesh garment-sector workers deserve to work in a safe and healthy environment, where their rights are respected and protected. The current situation is a far cry from this, and that’s simply unacceptable.

“Working with international partners, we have a fighting chance of driving long-lasting change. Whether you are a global brand, or a small retailer, and source from Bangladesh, we call on you to join these international efforts immediately.”

More details are on the ETI website at www.ethicaltrade.org

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