One year on: progress made to prevent another Rana Plaza tragedy
An official from one of the two global union bodies that negotiated the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, currently visiting New Zealand, says that the Accord continues to make big steps forward to ensure that no such tragedy happens again.
Today is the first anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Bangladesh with a loss of over 1,100 lives.
The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was negotiated by the UNI and IndustriALL international union bodies. More than 160 global brands have committed to the Accord, a program of unprecedented scale, independence, rigor and transparency. The agreement now covers 1600 factories employing 2 million workers.
Alke Boessiger, Head of the Commerce Section of UNI is currently in New Zealand visiting UNI affiliate, FIRST Union.
"Yesterday, I met with Woolworths / Countdown representatives and congratulated them on being a signatory to the Accord and updated them on our work," Alke Boessiger said.
"Woolworths, together with eight other Australasian companies including Kmart, Pacific Brands, Forever New and Cotton On and major global brands such as H&M, Adidas and Mothercare are some of the 160 signatories.”
"The inspection program is in full operation. There is a strong team of more than more than 100 technical experts and engineers in Bangladesh who are conducting 45 inspections per week, with the aim to inspect 1500 factories by October. More than 280 factories have been inspected for fire and electrical issues and 240 for structural safety. Every inspection has revealed critical issues which must be repaired as a condition of doing business with signatory brands in the future. These issues include, for example, the absence of fire doors to separate the work area from the fire exit. Brands are responsible to ensure that sufficient financial resources are available for the renovations and improvements,” she said.
"In some cases, the engineers have found that a building is at risk of imminent collapse, requiring temporary suspension of operations and evacuation of the workers while the parties involved develop a solution. Under the Accord, the covered factories must pay these workers for up to six months while repairs are underway. Currently all workers from the factories which have had to be temporarily closed are receiving payments.
“The first anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy is a moment to pause and remind ourselves of that terrible day when more than 1,100 garment workers lost their lives making the low-priced clothes that consumers have come to expect. Rana Plaza shone a spotlight into the dark recesses of the Bangladesh garment industry where mainly young women work for a pittance, sometimes in life-threatening conditions. UNI and IndustriALL urge all stakeholders along the supply-chain to commit to change and save lives.
“The Accord is an unprecedented, legally-binding agreement between brands and global unions which aims to make the Bangladeshi garment sector safe and sustainable across a five year term. It came about as a result of more than 1,800 preventable deaths from fires and factory collapses in the last seven years. Rana Plaza was the tragic tipping point.
However, FIRST Union General Secretary Robert Reid said that on the negative side, a year after Rana Plaza, multinational clothing brands are failing to meet the US$40 million target to pay fair compensation to the victims.
“Brand contributions to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund remain wholly inadequate. Only around US$15 million has been paid into the fund, established to give financial and medical support to the victims and their families consistent with guidelines set by the International Labour Organization (ILO),” Robert Reid said.
“We urge all the brands that have been working in Bangladesh to contribute to the fund with a considerable sum. They share a collective responsibility for this profoundly unsustainable production model and its hazards,” he said.