The Maquila Solidarity Network, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) have regularly called attention to the need for structural measures to end the consistent and ongoing worker rights violations in the Bangladeshi garment industry.
It took the worst industrial disaster in the history of Bangladesh to move global apparel companies to take serious action, but some good may come out of the April 24 Rana Plaza building collapse that killed over 1,100 workers and injured over 1,000 more. More than 50 international retailers and brands have signed the groundbreaking Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh with the Global Unions IndustriALL and UNI.
More than 40 of the world’s leading apparel retailers and brands have committed to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, accounting for more than 1,000 Bangladeshi garment factories. The legally binding program for fire and building safety includes independent inspections, worker-led health and safety committees and union access to factories, commitments to underwrite improvements in dangerous factories and resolve fire safety and structural problems.
On the eve of the Annual Meeting of Loblaw Companies Limited, 23 prominent Canadian trade unions, NGOs and faith organizations have sent an Open Letter to the company’s Executive Chairman, Galen Weston, calling on his company to take immediate steps to ensure that the deaths and injuries suffered by hundreds of garment workers in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh are not repeated.
On October 2, after over a year of discussions with trade union and labour rights organizations, Gap Inc. announced that it is refusing to participate in a groundbreaking fire safety program for the garment industry in Bangladesh. Instead it decided to set up a separate program, accountable to no one – least of all worker representatives.
After months of negotiations with labour rights groups (including MSN) to join PVH and Tchibo in a comprehensive fire safety program in Bangladesh, Gap Inc. broke off talks and announced they were launching their own, company-controlled, fire safety program – one in which factory monitoring is controlled entirely by Gap, with no transparency, no role for workers or their trade unions, no commitment to pay prices to suppliers that make it feasible for them operate responsibly, and no binding commitments of any kind.
The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), IndustriALL Global Union, Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), together with Bangladeshi trade unions and labour rights groups, have reached an agreement with Tchibo to implement a fire and building safety programme in Bangladeshi garment factories. The German-based company becomes the second retailer to commit to the groundbreaking safety programme, which was first agreed with PVH (owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger) in March. The program will get underway once two more major brands have signed on to the agreement.
The tortured body of Bangladeshi trade union organizer Aminul Islam was found by the side of the road on April 5 of this year, the tragic culmination of a history of attacks by Bangladeshi security forces on Aminul and the organizations in which he was involved.
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.
Aminul Islam, a trade union organizer for the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) and a member of the Bangladesh Center for Workers' Solidarity (BCWS) was found dead on April 5, 2012. Police pictures of his body suggest that Islam was tortured before being killed.