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11 years since the Rana Plaza collapse factories are safer but the root causes of tragedy persist

11 years since the Rana Plaza collapse factories are safer but the root causes of tragedy persist

11 years since the Rana Plaza collapse factories are safer but the root causes of tragedy persist

“MEPs have made history today as this law represents a groundbreaking change for how large companies operating in the EU, including fashion brands and retailers, will now have to do business” said Muriel Treibich, Corporate Accountability Coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign “yet, its impact will unfortunately be limited as many intermediary and smaller (but still large) operators will be able to escape their responsibilities and continue operating with impunity.” she added.24 April 2024 will mark the 11th anniversary of the fashion industry’s worst tragedy: the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, killing 1,138 people. The catastrophic death and injury toll was caused by a deadly mix of fashion brands ignoring dangerous factory conditions, poverty wages, and centrally, constraints on workers’ ability to organise collectively. While unprecedented progress has been made to make factories safer, the brutal crackdown on workers’ rights still unfolding in response to protests to increase the minimum wage has shown that apparel brands producing in Bangladesh are still failing to ensure that the basic rights of their workers are respected.

  • The disaster provided momentum to push brands to sign a binding agreement with unions that has made factories in Bangladesh demonstrably safer and prevented mass casualty incidents. Yet major brands like Levi’s, IKEA, Amazon and others refuse to heed calls from workers and campaigners to join.
  • In 2023, international brands refused to meaningfully support an increase in the legal minimum wage to a sustainable level for workers and their families, locking in poverty wages that are among the lowest for garment workers globally.
  • As workers exercised their basic rights to demonstrate against the undemocratic wage setting process, brands failed to prevent predictable and premeditated repression, giving tacit approval to violent tactics that left four workers dead and many more injured.
  • Today, brands like H&M, Inditex (Zara), Next, C&A, among many others, remain passive while their supplier factories keep workers and union organisers under threat of arrest, thanks to baseless criminal complaints against tens of thousands of unnamed individuals associated with the protests .
  • On 24 April 2024, the European Parliament will vote on the proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, which is a step towards holding brands accountable for human and labour rights violations in their supply chains. These recent events in Bangladesh show how much work global fashion brands still have ahead of them to live up to these new legal human rights due diligence obligations

The Rana Plaza building, housing five garment factories, collapsed on the morning of 24 April 2013. The building had been evacuated the day before as workers had pointed out dangerous cracks in the walls. While the shops on the ground floor remained empty that day, the garment factories refused to lose one more day of production and forced workers into the factory using the threat of withholding wages. Struggling to survive on poverty wages and without a labour union to collectively defend their rights, most workers entered their factories that day. This catastrophe was both predictable and preventable. Brands knew about the danger of the country’s multi-story buildings yet refused to take action. They also knew that the coercion implicit in poverty wages severely limited workers’ choices, and vitally, that the limitations on the fundamental rights to organise left workers exposed to serious risks.

Safer factories

Unions and labour rights groups had been raising these issues for over a decade and had developed a binding agreement for brands and unions to sign to make factories safer. Despite years of campaigning and dialogue with Bangladesh’s largest buying brands, only two brands signed this agreement before the collapse. Other brands continued to rely on the same social auditing system that had failed to prevent many previous disasters, and failed to recognise the risks at the Rana Plaza building. Making measures unavoidable, a mere three weeks after the disaster, a group of major brands signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

This agreement and its successor agreements (the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry) are the reason that Bangladesh, which frequently saw mass casualties in garment factories before 2013, has not faced similar disasters since. Improvements ranging from installing fire-fighting equipment and removing locks from doors, to large-scale renovations of structurally unsafe buildings, as well as worker trainings and a complaint mechanism have made a real change – especially in the first seven years of the Accord in Bangladesh, before employers started to exert undue influence over the programme. The Accord’s success is acknowledged by the 200 brands around the world that have signed the consecutive Accord agreements, including some of the world’s largest and most well known brands like H&M, Uniqlo, Inditex (Zara), and PVH (Calvin Klein). Yet, there continue to be major brands which continue to hide behind self-checks or industry-led initiatives without union participation. These includes Levi’s, IKEA, Kontoor Brands (Lee, Wrangler), Decathlon, Tom Tailor, VF Corporation, Walmart, Amazon, Columbia Sportswear and others.

Amin Amirul Haque, President of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) said: The refusal of brands like Levi’s and IKEA to sign the Accord means that they willing risk their workers’ lives for the production of their clothes and towels. They continue to rely on the same corporate-led systems that failed to prevent the Rana Plaza collapse. It is an absolute shame, just as it is absolutely shameful that there are about a dozen brands that made their products in the Rana Plaza factories and never paid any compensation to the families of the 1,138 workers who were killed and the over 2,500 workers who were injured. This is more than shameful, it is a double crime: they are guilty of death by negligence and of leaving the affected families without compensation.

However, the Accord only inspects and covers the final tier of garment production. This means that workers deeper in the supply chains of existing Accord signatory brands could also be risking their lives while toiling in textile mills and dyeing facilities without the same safety measures being taken. It is important that the Accord’s signatory brands take steps to ensure also these facilities are brought under the purview of the Accord. 

Poverty Wages

The Rana Plaza disaster was however caused by more than an unsafe building. One reason that workers felt compelled to enter the Rana Plaza building was the threat to withhold wages, which are so low that workers often have significant debt. The negligible minimum wage increases of 2013, 2018, and 2023 maintained the poverty wage levels, with the five year intervals meaning that inflation further chipped away at workers’ ability to put food on the table. The most recent, highly undemocratic wage review process of 2023 yielded a new minimum wage of 12,500 BDT (113 USD), little over half of what unions were asking for based on cost of living calculations. This is a mere fraction of what would constitute a living wage.

Unions and labour rights organisations repeatedly reached out to brands during this process to urge them to speak out in support of the workers’ demands and ensure their supplier factories that they would increase the prices paid for their product to meet the increase. Brands, whose power to enforce low pricing directly influences the wages and conditions at their supplier factories, kept their commitments vague and failed to instil any trust among factory owners that a wage increase would be financially feasible. Only after the wage announcement, brands like H&M announced to do the bare minimum by meeting the newly declared poverty wage into its pricing, and received praise from media around the world for this, showing how low the bar on brands’ behaviour is. This downward price squeeze limited the wage increase, and now even seems to affect implementation of this very limited wage increase. Several factories, including suppliers to major international brands, are reportedly failing to implement the new wage – meaning that workers don’t even receive the poverty wage they are legally entitled to.

Babul Akhter, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) said: “The new minimum wage is little over half of what unions were asking for during the wage setting process. That demand was based on basic cost of living calculations and still far removed from a real living wage that could properly sustain a family. The new minimum wage is a poverty wage that keeps workers on the brink of destitution for the next five years.”

 

Freedom of Association

Workers did not remain silent as a new poverty wage was decided through a process that excluded their voices. Unions started organising for a wage proposal meeting workers’ cost of living early in 2023. In October 2023, when employers shared a dismal wage proposal, many more workers took to the streets in protest, growing stronger again in November when the country’s wage board made its final recommendation of only 12,500 BDT (113 USD). At the behest of industry, the police, army, and special units were deployed to repress the spontaneous demonstrations. Employers failed to protect workers from the clear risk of deadly violence; rather as tensions rose, many closed their factories and sent workers into the streets without notice or assistance to workers, exposing them to serious danger. Protesting workers and workers with no intention of protesting were both met with violent repression and arbitrary use of force, which caused four deaths and many more injuries.  

The four workers who were killed (Rasel Howlader, 26, Jalal Uddin, 40, Anjuara Khatun, 23, Imran Hossain, 32) produced for international brands including H&M, Zara, C&A, Bestseller and Walmart. The deaths in brands’ own supply chains reflect a grave failure of due diligence and to use economic leverage to protect workers. Given the identical outcomes and worker death in 2018, the violence surrounding protests was both premeditated and predictable, yet brands took no meaningful action prior to or during the minimum wage process to prevent a tragic repeat. Nevertheless, each of these brands have refused to provide compensation for the families beyond the paltry compensation of around $4,500 that families have thus far received, which falls far short of the widely accepted compensation approach established in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster (based on ILO Convention 121).

Police complaints and legal cases, filed against workers and union leaders by factory owners and the police, led to arrests, long term detentions, and criminal charges. As the vast majority of the charges are against “unnamed workers”, the threat of legal prosecution now hangs over the heads of any worker who steps out of line and could suddenly be “identified” as being part of an ongoing case, as has already occurred with several prominent labour organisers. Labour rights organisations have urged the major international brands in whose supply chains factories have filed such cases to use their leverage with suppliers to ensure charges are withdrawn. While this has led to the withdrawal of several cases and others in progress, most brands have failed to act, allowing around two dozen cases to remain active. Brands like H&M, Inditex (Zara), Next, and C&A have the leverage to ensure these cases are dropped, but have shirked their responsibility.

Rashadul Alam Raju, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Union Federation (BIGUF) said: “Trumped up legal complaints against unnamed workers instil fear among workers and organisers, because anyone could be identified as a culprit in a case. Several union organisers, including from my union, have spent time in prison for an alleged crime that happened while they were at the other side of town. Brands like H&M, Zara, and Next need to do all in their power to ensure these complaints are dropped.”

The legal cases are particularly egregious because they have a further chilling effect on worker organising in Bangladesh. Despite some initial improvements in the years directly after the collapse, it remains exceedingly difficult to register a union in Bangladesh and violence and harassment against organisers are common. In June 2023, Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation organiser Shahidul Islam was beaten to death after leaving negotiations with the Prince Jacquard Sweater factory about wages. Earlier this year, two organisers of the Akota Garment Worker Federation were attacked and hospitalised after leaving a factory they were trying to organise.

 

New laws to hold brands accountable

The Rana Plaza collapse opened the eyes of citizens and policy-makers in consumer countries to the responsibility of corporations in relation to human and labour rights abuses in their global value chains and the need to regulate company behaviour. Activists, trade unions, and labour rights groups highlighted the need for binding obligations on companies and increased corporate accountability.

These calls were first successful in 2017 when in France the first ever due diligence law was passed, which was nicknamed the “Rana Plaza law”. Germany followed suit in 2023. In the UK, new research shows widespread support from the general public, business, and politicians from various parties for new laws requiring companies to prevent human rights abuses in their supply chains, and a groundbreaking Private Member’s Bill of this nature, the Commercial Organisations and Public Authorities Duty (Human Rights and Environment) Bill, will have its second reading in the House of Lords on 10 May.

Meanwhile, in the European Union, exactly 11 years after the Rana Plaza collapse, in a landmark vote the European Parliament has approved the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive on 24 April 2024. This EU Directive will oblige companies to carry out a due diligence process in their supply chain, including upstream value chain and direct and indirect business relationships to identify, prevent, mitigate, and remediate negative impact occurring in their value chain. In some cases, companies could also be held legally accountable for their actions and impacts on workers. The proposed legislation will only cover the largest companies active in the EU, but it nevertheless is an important step to hold brands accountable for their impact in global value chains and will contribute to preventing new disasters from happening.

 

Muriel Treibich, Lobby and Advocacy Coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign says: “For the first time over the last decade, this day of commemoration will also be a day of hope. On the day where we remember the lives lost in the Rana Plaza collapse, this vote represents a significant milestone for workers, communities, and activists worldwide and a major step for corporate accountability.”

 

Brands’ complicity to the recent crackdown in Bangladesh, shows that they still have a long way to go to fully respect human and labour rights in their supply chains. To fulfil their commitments and carry out an appropriate due diligence process as newly codified in the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, in the Clean Clothes Campaign we believe that international fashion brands must:

  1. Require their suppliers to immediately withdraw all criminal complaints they have filed against workers related to the protests; 
  2. Require any other retaliatory action taken against workers by their suppliers to be reversed, including reinstating workers that were dismissed to the same level of seniority, with full back pay;  
  3. Publicly condemn the wave of repression against Bangladeshi garment workers, highlighting support for workers’ fundamental rights to association and assembly and an immediate dropping of all mass charges against workers; and 
  4. Ensure that financial compensation consistent with international standards is provided to the family of workers killed in their supply chains;
  5. Use their leverage and adapt their pricing policy in order to ensure payment of living wages;
  6. Sign the International Accord and all relevant country programmes, and within the Accord actively engage for effective implementation of the programme and expansion to more factories within the own supply chain.

 

Resources:

– For more information on the crackdown on workers’ rights and inactivity of brands, see https://cleanclothes.org/news/2024/bangladesh-crackdown. The Clean Clothes Campaign network has reached out to 45 brands sourcing from factories that filed cases against protesting workers. The brands with most of these cases in their supply chain are H&M, Inditex, and Next. These cases have real effect on workers and organisers and the fact that many of the accused are “unnamed” allows for these baseless complaints to be used against any worker or unionist. In a particularly egregious case, two union organisers were charged with attempted murder and jailed for 66 days, even though none of them were named in the report or even in the vicinity of the factory on that particular day. This shows how the threat of unnamed charges hangs over every worker and organiser in Bangladesh. This criminal complaint, which alleges vandalism, arson, and the death of a worker, is still active against several named and over 700 unnamed people and has led to the imprisonment of a dozen people. Brands with leverage on the factory that has filed this complaint are Bestseller, H&M, Aldi South, Next, Gap, Kmart Australia, and Tom Tailor. Several brands, such as KIABI, Esprit, Kmart Australia, Decathlon, and Target Australia have refused to take responsibility entirely and not responded at all. 

– The Rana Plaza Never Again timeline documents the most important events and developments in the garment industry in Bangladesh of the past 11 years and includes key dates in the years before the Rana Plaza collapse: ranaplazaneveragain.org/timeline.

– Even though mass casualties in factory incidents are a thing of the past in Bangladesh, smaller incidents continue to happen and cost people’s lives. It is important that the scope of the Accord is expanded to also cover facilities deeper into brands’ supply chains, such as spinning mills and dying facilities. Read more: cleanclothes.org/keep-all-workers-safe

– More information on the International Accord can be found on their website. A list of which brands that did and did not sign is available here. A petition calling upon brands to sign to Accord is available here.

– Actions and commemorations across and in cooperation with the Clean Clothes Campaign will take place in Chicago (16 April, photos), Strasbourg (23 April), Brussels (24 April), London (24 April, anna@labourbehindthelabel.org), Netherlands (various locations and dates, carson@schonekleren.nl), Barcelona, Bilbao/Vitoria, Granada, Pamplona, Madrid (24 April) and other locations across the world. 

-In 2022 a pilot Employment Injury Insurance Scheme (EII or EIS) started in Bangladesh, meant to ensure that compensation is guaranteed for families of workers killed in the workplace and for those injured at work. This pilot is meant to lead to a law covering all garment workers. CCC encourages brands to participate in the pilot, but this is not sufficient. Firstly, brands should commit to fair pricing explicitly factoring the cost of EII into the purchasing price. Secondly, brands should commit that, once the law is in effect, they only source from suppliers participating actively and faithfully in the scheme, according to the law. Thirdly, brands should sign a legally binding agreement to this effect. 

Victory for newly unionised garment workers in Nike factory, Sri Lanka

Victory for newly unionised garment workers in Nike factory, Sri Lanka

Victory for newly unionised garment workers in Nike factory, Sri Lanka

After months of struggle and uncertainty, 18 workers at a factory in Sri Lanka making socks for Nike, who were suspended for forming a branch union, are now back at work with the branch union in place. This victory shows that union busting has no place in garment supply chains and that workers standing together and international solidarity can make a real difference.

On 7 September 2023, workers at the Texlan Centre factory in Sri Lanka, owned by Interloop group and a supplier to Nike, informed management of the formation of a branch union of the Free Trade Zones and General Service Employees Union (FTZ & GSEU), providing the names of the office bearers and committee members. The workers formed the union in response to concerns about their working conditions, including the lack of availability of filtered drinking water for workers and being unable to inform family members of unexpected night work.

In response, management contacted employees to warn them to stop unionising or risk dismissal. The following day, twelve branch union office bearers and committee members and four active members were suspended without pay. Several days later two additional union members were suspended. Management claimed bogus disciplinary allegations as the reason for the suspensions. The branch union president faced death threats and was warned to refrain from further union activity.

The parent union FTZ & GSEU immediately contacted the company about these blatant union busting tactics, and when the management did not show any willingness to accept the union, filed a complaint to the Special Investigation Unit of the Department of Labour. Meanwhile, the Clean Clothes Campaign case group, which Labour Behind the Label participated in, advocated to the factory group Interloop in Pakistan, as well as the main buyer Nike, requesting intervention in line with their obligations under UN Guiding Principles. As the proceedings dragged on, the union managed to ensure that the suspended workers were paid at least their base wages pending resolution.

After months of struggling for their trade union rights, on 15 February 2024 the workers signed an agreement with factory management allowing them back to work, with all bogus disciplinary allegations dropped, back payment of the bonuses workers missed during the months of suspension, and management being ordered not to interfere with the activities of the branch union. The FTZ branch union will start operating in the factory immediately.

The Texlan workers’ victory shows that solidarity is our greatest weapon against union busting and intimidation in global supply chains!

Press release: protesters denounce anti-worker reforms in Sri Lanka

Press release: protesters denounce anti-worker reforms in Sri Lanka

Press release: protesters denounce anti-worker reforms in Sri Lanka

For immediate release: 20 September 2023

  • Workers struggling to survive Sri Lanka’s cost of living crisis face new attacks on labour rights and pensions.
  • ‘Hands off workers rights’ – trade unions and campaigners protest reforms at Sri Lankan High Commission, London.

Trade unions and labour rights campaigners gathered in London today in solidarity with workers in Sri Lanka, where labour law reforms are set to undermine employment rights while debt restructuring targets workers’ pensions. War on Want and Labour Behind the Label submitted a letter supported by Unite the union, GMB, Fire Brigades Union, Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) and the Trades Union Congress, Scottish Trades Union Congress and Wales Trades Union Congress to the Sri Lanka High Commission, raising concerns about the roll-back on workers’ rights, pay and pensions and calling on the Sri Lankan government to engage with the labour movement.

High inflation and currency devaluation has already pushed workers into poverty in Sri Lanka. Now the government is seeking to push through a unified Labour Law which would push hundreds of thousands of working people into further precarity by downgrading basic rights and protections. The new law would put workers at the mercy of employers who could unilaterally increase their working day to 12 or 16 hours without overtime, increase night-work or arbitrarily dismiss them.

At the same time, workers’ pension funds (Employee Provident and Trust Funds) have been singled out by the Government and Central Bank to bear the burden of domestic debt restructuring, a process which itself is arguably unnecessary except to please foreign debt and IMF creditors. This will diminish returns to wage-earners and deplete the fund – which represents the retirement savings of 2.6 million workers – to half its current value.

Anton Marcus, joint secretary of the Free Trades Zones and General Services Employees Union, representing workers in Sri Lanka’s biggest export industry – the garment sector – said:

If these reforms go through it will unleash a race to the bottom on labour rights in Sri Lanka that will hurt ordinary working people – especially women in the apparel sector who are often sole breadwinners for their families. They will be at the mercy of their employers – forced to accept longer hours, or working more nights out of fear of losing their jobs and what little wages they can earn. We are encouraged to see organisations around the world, including trade unions, also raising their concerns about these reforms. International solidarity with working people in Sri Lanka is really important at this time.”

ENDS

 

Notes to editors

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Photographs available on request.

Letter handed in to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner: https://waronwant.org/sites/default/files/2023-09/Joint%20Ltr_SriLankaHC_20Sept23%20signed.pdf

Further information

Statement on the crisis faced by garment workers in Sri Lanka

Statement on the crisis faced by garment workers in Sri Lanka

Labour Behind the Label stands in solidarity with workers in Sri Lanka against the government’s reckless plans to drastically reduce labour law protections. Read our statement below.

Sri Lanka’s garment workers have been bearing the brunt of the financial and political crisis that has haunted the country for over 1.5 years, with high inflation and currency devaluation pushing workers into poverty while the government and employers repress their right to organise. With the government now rushing through procedurally unsound changes to labour laws, and domestic debt restructuring measures targeting workers’ social security funds, garment workers in Sri Lanka will be deprived of even more basic rights and protections against precarity. National and international labour rights organisations appeal to the government of Sri Lanka to respect tripartite processes and refrain from targeting workers’ social security funds as part of debt restructuring measures.

Labour law

The government’s attempt to overhaul existing labour laws into a unified labour code has from the outset ignored established tripartite consultation mechanisms and bypassed other existing democratic processes. Draft legislation, for example, has not been made available in all the country’s official languages. Beyond the problematic process, which disregards the rights of trade unions as well as minorities, we are concerned that the proposed unified labour law seeks to eliminate the rights and protection of workers in the interests of creating a more exploitable labour force. By removing international minimum standards such as the eight hour working day, paid overtime entitlements and protections against arbitrary dismissal, allowing employers to force employees to work for four weeks straight without days off, reducing annual leave entitlements, and weakening freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, this legislation will increasingly leave workers at the mercy of their employers, without any recourse.

We believe that any revision of Sri Lanka’s labour laws requires a thorough consultative process, in which the voices of workers and their elected trade union representatives are heard. This could be realised by the government appointing a credible independent commission with the participation of experts such as the International Labour Organisation. Any consultation process must include the four trade unions which were unlawfully removed from the National Labour Advisory Council in June 2023.

Anton Marcus, joint secretary of the Free Trade Zones & General Service Employees Union in Sri Lanka says:

The government’s proposals and process for the overhaul of the labour law violate international norms for decent work and threaten to unleash a race to the bottom on labour rights. Only an inclusive, transparent, and democratic process of engagement with the participation of all relevant tripartite stakeholders can lead to results that are acceptable to workers and meet international norms. 

Social security

Workers are additionally concerned about their rights and livelihoods now that the government, in response to the ongoing international debt crisis, has announced a restructuring of domestic debt. The restructuring targets superannuation or pension funds, with the largest among them, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), representing 2.5 million workers. Workers pay into this fund through deductions from already meagre wages throughout their working lives. Their laboriously built-up retirement funds are now being targeted without any consultation. Moreover, such restructuring does not apply to other treasury bond holders. If workers’ social security funds are not included, the government has threatened to ensure these funds pay the price through other means, such as a tax increase from 14 to 30%.

Singling out superannuation funds, and thereby forcing Sri Lankan workers to foot the bill for a debt crisis for which they are not responsible, is arbitrary and unfair. We support the position of the major trade unions who have requested the Governor of the Central Bank to halt all decision-making and call for a trade union forum to discuss this matter. 

The Clean Clothes Campaign, the Free Trade Zone & General Services Employees Union, the International Union Educational League, Labour behind the Label, Maquila Solidarity Network, and War on Want stand in solidarity with the garment workers of Sri Lanka, a majority of whom are women and migrant workers. Workers took to the streets in protest on 19, 20 and 25 July and we stand with them as they continue to protest and resist the government’s attacks on their basic labour rights and hard-earned social security funds. We urge the government of Sri Lanka and all stakeholders involved, such as employers associations, the IMF and the Central Bank, to ensure workers are not forced to pay the price for the country’s ongoing crisis by

  • Immediately halting the existing labour reform process; 
  • Devising specific, transparent, and consensus-based “terms of reference” for the process of reforms with the participation of all relevant tripartite stakeholders of the world of work such as International Labour Organisation, to come to a reform process that ensures local Labour laws are made consistent with norms of International Labour Standards and Decent Work;
  • Ensuring that international standards are not violated and that such a reform process is carried by a tripartite and democratic process with participation from trade unions, the National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) and other key stakeholders. 
  • Reinstating the four trade unions which were unlawfully removed from the National Labour Advisory Council in June 2023; 
  • Halting the targeting of EPF/ETF (pension funds) for debt restructuring without adequate engagement with the workers and their representatives. 
  • Ensuring that workers do not have to bear a ‘disproportionate’ burden of the economic crisis and that their rights are respected.

Press Release: UK brands’ inaction on Pakistan Accord risks garment worker lives

Press Release: UK brands’ inaction on Pakistan Accord risks garment worker lives

For immediate release: 14 July 2023

 

This week marks six months since the Pakistan Safety Accord was launched following years of campaigning by trade unions and labour organisations. The binding factory safety programme is modelled on the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, which has made factories safer for 2.5 million garment workers in Bangladesh. 

In the past six months 63 brands have signed the Pakistan Accord, covering hundreds of supplier factories. However, major brands who source from Pakistan are still missing – including UK brands Boohoo, The Very Group, Matalan, Asda and Missguided. Boohoo, The Very Group, Matalan and Fatface are signatories to the International Accord, raising questions as to why workers in Pakistan are being made to wait for the protections afforded workers in Bangladesh. Asda and Missguided have as yet failed to sign either of these life-saving mechanisms for worker safety.

As brands take their time, workers risk their lives. As the recent fire and building collapse at Usman & Sons factory shows, deadly incidents can happen at any time until inspections and implementation of corrective action plans start. Labels of a French supermarket chain, who had failed to sign the 2021 International Accord and the Pakistan Accord were found in the rubble of the Karachi factory.

Zehra Khan, general secretary of the Pakistan Home Based Women Workers’ Federation, said: “Workers in Pakistan have waited for long enough. The solutions exist, but some brands still risk workers’ lives and are escaping their responsibility. We call on brands and retailers to start putting speed behind the operation and make participation in the Pakistan Accord a top priority.”

Nasir Mansoor, general secretary general of the National Trade Union Federation in Pakistan said: “We need all brands with production in Pakistan to sign the Accord as soon as possible. And, once brands sign, they must not sit back and relax. Only after inspections begin and workers can hand in complaints, will the risk of the next factory fire or collapse actually start to lower.” 

ENDS

 

Notes for editors

For media enquiries please contact: