2014/04/17

Rana Plaza Tragedy Aftermath: International Safety Initiative Setting up Office in Dhaka

DHAKA, BANGLADESH. Justice is being promised for people making clothes for brands such as Primark and H&M by a new industry led initiative, but critics hail it as "business as usual". Maria Evrenos reports. 

A group of North American clothing companies established a new office in Dhaka this week to work locally on improving safety in Bangladesh's garment industry. Twenty-six companies, retailers and brands have united as The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (The Alliance), which has hired 15 staff to implement tougher safety checks on its supplying factories. “It is an honor to formalize our presence in Dhaka, which will help speed the achievement of our ambitious goals for garment factory safety,” said Jeffrey Krilla, President of the Alliance. 

The team will carry out worker and management safety training and will also scrutinise fire and structural safety in the factories were clothes for brands such as Primark and H&M are produced. 

Safety Issues
The problem is that hundreds of factories in Bangladesh are still found in converted residential buildings that are not fit for purpose or outright dangerous. “They often lack adequate fire escapes, alarms, first aid or fire-fighting equipment,” Jason Burke reported this week for The Guardian.

Pressure to deal with this issue has been mounting since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April where over 1,100 lost their lives and many more were injured. And it’s not the only example where workers have been trapped and killed in Bangladesh factories in the recent year. 

Phil Bloomer, the Executive Director of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre says global business lacks appropriate humanitarian safeguards: “The fact that those factories were locked and that people were desperate to get out; they knew their work was dangerous. To leave health and safety in the hands of those in H&M or GAP some 5 000 miles away, is not the way to deliver health and safety at the factory floor.” 


Labour right's developments this year
The Rana Plaza tragedy sparked a tumultuous year of progress for workers’ rights in Bangladesh. The Alliance’s new headquarters will open its doors in Dhaka only about a week after the minimum wage in Bangladesh was raised by 77%. It’s now 5,300 taka (£41) following a labor dispute where worker’s protests forced about 250 garment factories to close. Muhammad Rumee Ali, managing director of enterprises and investment at BRAC said this week: “Now is the time for us to unite efforts across business, government, and civil society to create a new, sustainable standard for worker safety throughout Bangladesh.” 

Different solutions - The Alliance Vs. The Accord

But the vision for the way forward is split. While the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety doesn’t involve worker’s unions in its negotiations and prefers voluntary targets for improving safety, another group is developing alongside. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (The Accord) is a legally binding agreement between international trade unions, Bangladesh trade unions, and over a hundred international companies which is campaigning for more accountable change. They criticize the work of The Alliance for being business as usual. “The Walmart/Gap scheme [The Alliance] preserves the very model that has failed workers for years and led to nearly two thousand deaths.” 

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