Worker Safety: change after Bangladesh incident and Beyond

The Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in April 2013 that killed over 1,000 people is a clarion call about the urgent need to improve safety standards for garment workers in developing countries. Government interventions, coupled with urgent recommendations, are underway to address the needs of survivors, to prevent future instances of the abuse of workers, to insure higher safety standards and to improve social compliance in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry.


UK government sought steps to avoid another factory disaster

The UK government has helped ratchet up standards in factories supplying UK retailers after the disaster in Bangladesh’s building complex. About 20 retailers, including Primark, were summoned to a UK government summit at the Department for International Development (DFID) as ministers sought steps to prevent another such incident. The meeting encouraged retailers to use their influence to help bring about change. The DFID also offered to provide social, political and economic insight to retailers to help them invest responsibly in developing countries. The UK has donated £18m (about $ 27.5 m) towards safety and skills training for Bangladeshi factory workers and is also offering technical support and advice on factory standards.

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Australian retailer promises building safety checks in Bangladesh 

Despite not receiving any clothing from Rana Plaza, but relenting to pressure from human rights groups, Australian retail giant Kmart, is presently reviewing its commercial ties with Bangladesh. Kmart’s managing director has stated that the retail company will not tolerate underage employees or unsafe buildings.

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Bangladesh tells EU it will boost worker rights, inspections

In response to a “sustainability compact” launched by the EU, Bangladesh officials have pledged to enact a new labor law by the end of 2013, to boost worker rights and to increase the factory inspectorate by 200 staff to 800. This commitment is an effort to preserve European Union trade benefits. Bangladesh has been warned not to take these benefits for granted.  A group of mainly European retailers announced they had finalized a plan to promote worker safety through coordinated inspections.

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Major U.S. names missing as retailers sign deal to improve Bangladesh safety

75 mainly European retailers signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, backed by the international trade union IndustriALL and the Bangladeshi government. The accord is a legally binding plan to inspect garment supply factories in Bangladesh within nine months. In contrast, only three U.S. retailers have signed up to the plan. American firms are reportedly reluctant to join any industry accord that creates legally binding objectives.

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According to Jyrki Raina, the general secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union, a “profound change” was only possible with a strong coalition between trade unions, international brands and retailers and Bangladeshi authorities with worker involvement.

What else should foreign governments, multinational brands, trade unions, human right groups, and workers do? Read our 2013 ISSUE OF THE YEAR: Minimal standards for worker safety and Share your view.