One year on: taking action to prevent the next potential Rana Plaza tragedy
A year on from the Rana Plaza tragedy, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety negotiated by UNI Global Union and IndustriALL Global Union continues to make big steps forward. 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.
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.
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.
UNI Global Union’s General Secretary, Philip Jennings said “This disruption to production is unfortunate but there is no choice when we have another potential Rana Plaza on our hands. We have taken on the daunting task of putting right thirty years of neglect in five years.”
Jennings added, “The first anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, 24 April 2013, 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.
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).
IndustriALL Global Union’s General Secretary, Jyrki Raina 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.”
Ineke Zeldenrust, of Clean Clothes Campaign added, "The Accord is an important step in preventing future disasters, but we should not forget those for whom it comes too late. As we mark the first anniversary of the collapse of Rana Plaza it is imperative that all brands who rely on Bangladeshi labour pay up. Brands including Benetton, Matalan and Auchan who so far have failed to make any contribution to the Donor Trust Fund, and brands including Kik, Walmart and Mango whose current donations are far too low, must increase them to ensure all those who have suffered receive the financial help they require."
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See also the UNI Bangladesh Accord website for more material: www.unibangladeshaccord.org
(To follow in French, German, Spanish and Swedish)