April 18, 2012
One of the tragic lessons from the disastrous accident at the Eurotex factory, in Dhaka, Bangladesh in December 2011, was that some international brands that had been producing clothing in the factory already knew there were serious safety hazards. Rather than fix the problems, however, they quietly left the factory, leaving workers to face those hazards alone.
The results were predictable and preventable. On December 3, 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 factory. Another 62 workers were injured.
The disaster added two more unnecessary deaths to the list of more than 330 workers killed in Bangladeshi garment factory accidents since 2000.
The "cut-and-run" approach exhibited by the brands who fled the Eurotex factory is about to change, however, as a result of a ground-breaking new agreement negotiated between Bangladeshi and international unions and labour rights organizations and PVH Corp. (PVH), owner of Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and other well-known brands.
Announced on March 21, the agreement will establish a two-year fire safety program in the Bangladesh apparel industry to identify and address the preventable safety hazards that so regularly take the lives of the country's garment workers.
The signatories to the agreement include the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF), the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) and seven Bangladeshi unions and NGOs.
Although PVH has signed the agreement, it will not go into effect until three more major buyers sign on. Discussions with other large international brands whose garments are made in Bangladesh are ongoing as we go to press.
"The program is significant because it is supported by all the key labour stakeholders in Bangladesh, it is transparent, and it involves workers and unions in implementation and safety training," says the CCC's Tessel Pauli.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) provides for a comprehensive program to improve safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry, including:
The MOU also requires participating brands to maintain or increase orders in factories that are improving conditions over the course of the program, in order to provide incentives for factories to upgrade their facilities.
"Brands have been stalling for years while disaster after disaster struck," said Pauli. "Now there's a solution on the table. There's no excuse for further inaction."