The collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza that killed more than 240 people is prompting renewed calls for foreign retailers and clothing companies to ensure the safety of workers in Bangladesh.
The blame for the string of tragedies in the country’s garment sector must be shared between ‘ruthless’ factory bosses, a ‘negligent’ government and Western retailers who place ‘cost above safety’, say activists.
‘Labour rights groups around the world have been asking, indeed imploring, major retailers to address the grievous safety hazards in their Bangladesh factories and the response is always the same: vague promises and public relations dodges, while the pile of corpses grows ever higher,’ Scott Nova, executive director of the Washington-based Worker Rights Consortium, said yesterday in a statement, reports Agence France-Presse.
A Toronto-based labour and women’s rights organisation said companies know there is a problem in Bangladesh, but continue to ‘pour orders’ into the country without making an effort to fix the problem.
‘I’m not so concerned if [brands like Joe Fresh] get some bad publicity out of this, I’m concerned that they do something about it once and for all,’ Maquila Solidarity Network Director of Advocacy Kevin Thomas told Global News.
‘We know that New Wave garment factory inside the building supplied both Primark and Bonmarche. That raises profoundly disturbing questions about the responsibility of Western companies and, indeed, consumers. The next time you buy a Primark T-shirt for £2.50 with “made in Bangladesh” on the label, ask yourself why this product is so cheap? If you care to consider the matter, you will know that the people who make it cannot be paid very much. But it gets worse. The harsh reality is they often have to work in death-traps,’ wrote David Blair, chief foreign correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, in his blog.
Workers-rights advocates are petitioning companies to sign a contractually enforceable memorandum that would require them to pay Bangladesh factories enough to cover costs of safety improvements.
So far, PVH Corp, owner of the Tommy Hilfiger brand, and German retailer Tchibo are the only ones to sign the agreement, which also would require companies to provide accurate and regularly updated lists of their approved suppliers and subcontractors in Bangladesh. It won’t take effect until four major retailers sign on.
Consumers could help pressure retailers to switch orders from Bangladesh, which would bring about change, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told AFP.
‘We have seen it in the case of blood diamonds, how when consumers become aware and avoid purchasing diamonds that are not sourced properly, then the industry is forced to change,’ she said.
She also decried the intimidation of labour leaders and activists working for better conditions who have been ‘targeted, murdered and slapped with court cases’.
Meanwhile, Loblaw Cos’ Joe Fresh and Associated British Foods Plc’s Primark, which have said that their suppliers made garments at the collapsed factory, both vowed to help improve working conditions in Bangladesh, reports Bloomberg.
Spanish retailer Mango has admitted to links with a manufacturer in the collapsed building, while Wal-Mart said it was investigating allegations from campaigners that it had also placed orders there.
Italian fashion label Benetton denied any links, but campaigners produced documents that appear to show orders placed in September last year.
Joe Fresh, the clothing brand owned by Brampton, Ontario- based Loblaw, had a ‘small number’ of items produced at the complex, Julija Hunter, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement, according to Bloomberg.
The company is ‘saddened’ by the tragedy and will work with its vendor to see how it can help, she said. Loblaw has standards for suppliers to make sure that products are produced in a
socially responsible manner and conducts regular audits to ensure compliance, Hunter said.
‘We hope to hear more from the authorities about the status of this situation and we are committed to supporting them,’ she said.
One of Primark’s suppliers occupied the building’s second floor, the company said in a statement. The budget fashion chain owned by London-based Associated British Foods said it was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the accident and has worked with non-governmental organisations to help improve factory standards in Bangladesh.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is investigating its supply chain to see if a factory in the building was producing for the company, Kevin Gardner, a spokesman for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
-With New Age input