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Bangladesh: Workers still dying in unsafe buildings

January 23, 2012

Just over a year ago a fire at That's It Sportswear garment factory in Bangladesh caused the death of 29 workers, and injured a number of others, eleven of them seriously. The factory, belonging to the Hameem group, supplied US brands and retailers, including JC Penney, VF corporation, Gap, Philips Van Heusen, Abercrombie & Fitch, Carters, Kohls and Target.

Sadly, in December two more workers perished and over fifty were injured in a stampede triggered by panic after a boiler explosion at the Bangladesh factory Eurotex.

On the 3rd of December 2011, 20-year-old Jesmin Akter and 22-year-old Taslima Akter were trampled to death when a panic broke out following a boiler explosion on the second floor of the Eurotex Ltd factory in Old Dhaka. Another 62 workers were injured. Several international buyers had already identified concerns in regard to safety risks at the factory, and one had left the factory citing safety concerns, but these concerns were not shared publicly. At the time of the incident Eurotex was producing for  Tommy Hilfiger (owned by the US company PVH Corp).

Safety demands

Although the companies sourcing from That's it Sportswear have now paid 97% of the compensation owed to the families of the dead workers for distress and loss of family income, there is an urgent need to establish a credible programme to address the serious safety issues that remain endemic in the readymade garment industry.

In response to the disaster at That's It Sportswear, representative unions in Bangladesh agreed on a comprehensive set of demands based on established best practice and on an assessment of what the industry could support. These demands also took into account the absence of a proper compensation scheme and the principle that buyers in general bear greater responsibility when they do not have adequate systems for detecting and addressing deficiencies in worker safety. 

The demands include the revision of current safety standards; thorough, independent, well-funded and publicly-transparent safety inspections of all multi-story supplier factories; the remediation of identified safety deficiencies; the training of management, security personnel and workers in health and safety issues; the establishment of mechanisms for dialogue between unions and employers and functioning health and safety committees in every factory.

These demands had the support of local NGOs, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation (ITGLWF) and international labour rights groups such as the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF).

Brand actions

We are pleased to report that most of the brands sourcing from Hameem have contributed the portion requested of them in respect of the families of the deceased workers and have worked with Hameem to determine to what extent the workers' needs are being met. PVH Corp has also agreed to ensure that compensation is paid to the workers at Eurotex.

However, international brands have so far failed to address the need for a credible and sustainable program in Bangladesh to address the ongoing risk of further fatal tragedies in Bangladesh's readymade garment industry.

MSN, the CCC, ILRF, and the ITGLWF are continuing to work together to make brands sourcing from Bangladesh take responsibility for the health and safety of the workers who make their products.

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