Questions & Comments

Prior to the Conference, BGF is receiving comments and questions from participants. Here are some of them:

1. Lan Phuong Bui (Deputy Director, Vietnam Institute of America Studies): How could multi-lateral treaties such as the TPP help improve workers’ safety especially in developing countries? 

2. Salil Tripathi (Director, Worker Safety IHRB): There has been considerable focus on western brands and companies. Who is exerting pressure on Bangladeshi companies? 

3. Khurrum Siddique (Director, SIMCO): How do we make buyers accept responsibility for outsourcing?

4. Eileen McNeely (Director, Center for Health and Global Environment): What is the role for collective bargaining to oversee health and safety conditions?

5. Professor Kent Jones (Economics Department, Babson College): Instead of “naming and shaming” only corporations that sell sweatshop products, how about doing the same for countries, like the US and members of the EU, that reserve their highest tariff rates for clothing made in the poorest countries?  According to www.progressive-economy.org, the average US tariff collected on imports from Bangladesh in 2013 was 15%, second only to Cambodia in its severity.  Based on some $4billion annually in clothing imports from Bangladesh, the US collected more than $600 million in tariff revenue on those items in 2012; the EU, with similar tariffs, collects a comparable amount.  Why not persuade the importing countries to contribute these tariff revenues to a fund in support of the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord? Such a fund, accumulating tariff revenues on Bangladeshi trade alone of $2 billion or more annually, could be turned over to a competent international authority, perhaps the ILO, to fund structural improvements and to link compliance with safety standards to a certification process, with independent inspection and monitoring.  In fact, this sort of tariff-based funding could be used to support similar programs in other countries as well, and even in other industries.  These tariffs, by the way, are the product of domestic protectionist politics, are a drag on development, and should be reduced and eventually eliminated.  In the meantime, the tariff revenues could at least be devoted to such a worker safety initiative that actually helps development.

The good thing about the response to the Rana Plaza tragedy is that it has focused on improving worker conditions through voluntary actions, public awareness, and international cooperation.  While these measures alone may not solve the problem, they at least provide a cooperative framework to build upon.  Financial resources to implement needed infrastructure and building safety measures must also be a part of the solution, and this element can provide incentives for compliance (see my proposal above).  What is unlikely to succeed are unilateral trade sanctions to enforce labor standards, which would end up punishing Bangladeshi and other foreign workers.

6. Jyoti Sinha (Sloan School of Management, MIT): I have been researching on the  cause of fire at garment factory/workshop/outlet. Fabric dust of course catches fire easily but where does the spark comes from. Is it electrical appliances outburst, machinery default which produces the spark..or something else? Are the garment workers trained or oriented to follow the safety rules at work. Does the safety culture/ climate exists at these garment factory/workshop/outlet.

With reference to Triangle shirtwaist factory fire: A New York Times article suggested that the fire may have been started by the engines running the sewing machines, while The Insurance Monitor, a leading industry journal, suggested that the epidemic of fires among shirtwaist manufacturers was “fairly saturated with moral hazard.

7Mr. Kirpal Singh (Director of the Wee Kim Wee Centre for Diversity Education at the Singapore Management University):

  • The main issue for worker rights seems to me to be the actual implementation….it is one thing to get these rights, etc, and another to actually see them executed…. Who will do the important but risky *policing*?
  • How do we ensure that even if minimum working standards/salaries are agreed to these will be implemented without workers being punished/coerced, etc?