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Rana Plaza survivor and others arrested at Children’s Place headquarters

Rana Plaza survivor and others arrested at Children’s Place headquarters

Nearly 30 demonstrators, including a survivor of the Rana Plaza building collapse, were arrested (12.3.15) after organizing a peaceful protest at Children’s Place headquarters in New Jersey. The protestors were there to ask the company to pay compensation to victims of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry.

 

Children’s Place was one of the major brands sourcing from Rana Plaza at the time that it collapsed, killing 1,138 workers and injuring another 2,500. 18-year-old Mahinur Begum, a former garment worker who was nearly killed in the collapse, was at Children’s Place to demand full and fair compensation for herself and her coworkers.

 

Rather than listen to this brave survivor and her colleagues, Children’s Place called police and had the peaceful demonstrators arrested. It is the latest callous act from a company that has refused to take responsibility for the deplorable human rights violations occurring in its supply chain. It has contributed a mere $450,000 to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, 15 times less than what companies of similar size and level of purchasing from Rana Plaza have paid into the fund. The $8 million demonstrators asked Children’s Place to contribute is half the salary CEO Jane Elfers earned in 2012.

 

Children’s Place’s continued refusal to pay the $8 million it owes Rana Plaza victims is corporate greed, plain and simple. And now it’s trying to silence criticism rather than do the right thing for Mahinur and her coworkers.

 

Your support is vital to call for Children’s Place’s to pay the $8 million it owes Rana Plaza victim. Please sign the petition here.

No justice in sight: 18 months from Rana Plaza

No justice in sight: 18 months from Rana Plaza

Labour Behind the Label has been meeting survivors and families of victims of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh this week and is shocked and deeply saddened by the number of people who, 18 months on, are unable to find work or rebuild their lives.

 

Factory owners are turning ex Rana Plaza workers away, judging them as too ‘damaged’ and too much of a risk to take on,” says Samantha Maher, of Labour Behind the Label, who has been in Bangladesh this month, “it is shocking to see how defeated so many people are, especially in comparison to the other workers we met.”

 

In the aftermath of the terrible collapse in April 2013, much has been done to prevent another disaster and for those who were not working in one of the five factories in Rana Plaza the measures being introduced through the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety offer the hope of a safer future.

 

However, for more than 2,000 women and men who survived the collapse, compensation has not been forthcoming and 18 months after the collapse the compensation fund still needs US$20 million. The current shortfall is being blamed on the failure of leading brands like Benetton, who were sourcing from the factory, to make even an initial payment into the Trust Fund.

 

The significance of not receiving full payments can be felt most keenly when talking to young women who are head of households. Alongside the physical and emotional damages suffered they have no financial security.

 

Women like 18 year old Mahinu Akter, who just two days before the collapse of Rana Plaza, became the sole earner in her family when her father was killed in a bus accident. Mahinu, had been working at Rana Plaza since she was 14, to help support her mother and two brothers. Mahinu has only received just 95,000 taka or £770 in compensation.

 

Mahinu sustained head injuries, and lost a toe in the collapse. She spent 20 days in hospital. Once she was released she was in bed for a month and couldn’t eat. Even now she struggles to eat and has lost her appetite. She suffers from pains in her feet, swollen legs, memory loss and constant headaches.

 

The fact that the Rana Plaza Donor Trust Fund has only been able to provide 40% of the compensation payments due to Mahinu and others like her – due to big brands not paying what they owe – means that, for most, making long term plans are impossible.

 

In many cases the fact that full compensation cannot be made is having a serious impact on the usefulness of these payments. Receiving money in small amounts means that for people already living in dire financial straits they have no choice but to use it for daily life, instead of saving it or investing in a new business or land to ensure they will manage in the long run,” adds Sam Maher.

 

Benetton said in the aftermath of the collapse that it was committed to “working directly with those affected by the Rana Plaza disaster” however by failing to commit to the ILO managed Rana Plaza Donor Trust Fund, they have failed the women and men they relied on to make their profits.

 

Instead of receiving the compensation they are entitled to, young women like Mahinu remain at the mercy of charitable donations, which can be unpredictable and inconsistent and leaves those unable to find work in a cycle of poverty.

 

Mahinu, as with so many others, sees little chance that brands, like Benetton, will pay up, “It doesn’t matter what we think about compensation, we know they will never give it to us,” she says.

No justice in sight: 18 months from Rana Plaza

We Won! Rana Plaza compensation announced

Labour Behind the Label is delighted to announce a major campaign victory with the confirmation that the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund has finally met its target of $30 million, following a large anonymous donation.
Labour Behind the Label, as part of the Clean Clothes Campaign, has been campaigning since the disaster in April 2013 to demand that brands and retailers provided compensation to its victims. Since then over one million consumers from across Europe and around the world have joined actions against many of the major high street companies whose products were being made in one of the five factories housed in the structurally compromised building. These actions forced many brands to finally pay donations and by the second anniversary the Fund was still $2.4 million dollars short of its $30million target. A large donation received by the Fund in the last few days has now led to the Fund meeting its target.

“This day has been long in coming. Now that all the families impacted by this disaster will finally receive all the money that they are owed, they can finally focus on rebuilding their lives. This is a remarkable moment for justice,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign. “This would not have been possible without the support of citizens and consumers across Europe who stuck with the campaign over the past two years. Together we have proved once again that European consumers do care about the workers who make their clothes – and that their actions really can make a difference.”

The Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund was set up by the ILO in January 2014 to collect funds to pay awards designed to cover loss of income and medical costs suffered by the Rana Plaza victims and their families when the Rana Plaza building collapsed in the garment industry’s worst ever disaster.

In November 2014 the Rana Plaza Coordination Committee announced that is would need around $30million to pay in full over 5,000 awards granted through the scheme. However, the failure of brands and retailers linked to Rana Plaza to provide sufficient and timely donations into the Fund has, until today, prevented the payment of the awards from being completed.

The Clean Clothes Campaign will continue to support the Rana Plaza victims who are persuing further payments in recognition of the pain and suffering inflicted upon them as a result of corporate and institutional negligence. These payments fall outside the scope of the Arrangement.

The CCC also calls for policy changes to ensure that those affected by future disasters will receive more timely support. They welcome a new initiative by the ILO in Bangladesh to develop a national workplace injury scheme for the country’s 4 million garment workers. They also urge European politicians to develop better regulation of supply chains to ensure that brands and retailers are held properly accountable in the future.

“This is a huge victory – but its been too long in the making” says Ineke Zeldenrust from CCC: “That brands with a collective annual profit of over $20 billions took two years and significant public pressure to come up with a mere $30 million is an indictment of the voluntary nature of social responsibility. We now need to look at ways to ensure that access to such remedy is provided by brands and retailers as a matter of course, and not only when public outrage makes doing nothing impossible.

June 2015.

Blog: Why I won’t be boycotting Primark

The recent events in Bangladesh have filled the media with horrific pictures of human tragedy: mothers mourning their lost children, rescue workers covered in dust unearthing more bodies, death and grief mounting under piles of rubble and boxes of unworn clothes.

Amongst a growing inbox of heart-wrenching testimony and photos from workers and rescuers on the scene, there is one image in particular that is seared into my mind. That of a man, dust covered and dead, hugging a woman who lies limp in his arms. I cannot help but wonder, again and again, at what point did he reach over to hug, protect and comfort her? When did they realise they were both going to die? What were their final words to each other? Did they even know each other or did the terror of a collapsing building bring them together?

Pictures like these should not exist. Not for the price of a cheap pair of jeans or a £2 t-shirt that can be worn a few times and thrown away. Not ever.

The sad fact that sweatshop factories are an ongoing problem, and one that Labour Behind the Label have been campaigning against for years, does not change the shock many people feel at the events of last week. This image, along with the hundreds of others that tell of lives destroyed in the building collapse, has brought to the fore questions over what we, as consumers, can and should do.

In the past few days many people have asked me ”where’s OK to shop now?”, assuming that boycotts are the solution. Wanting to put a dent in the pockets of major brands is an understandable response to the tragedy. However, we urge people not to boycott the brands involved. Instead put the workers at the centre of the issue, and ensure their rights are respected. In response to a boycott, brands may cut production or pull out of factories. This would lead to the loss of jobs, garment workers struggling to feed their families and being unable to send their children to school.

The Rana Plaza tragedy is not an isolated incident. The problems are endemic and widespread in the garment and fashion industry, and all too often brands pay lip service to change without putting the finance and provisions in place to ensure it happens.

Countries such as Bangladesh rely on an expanding garment trade. Boycotting may result in a quick-fix solution by brands who will simply pull out of the country, whereas what is needed is a commitment to long-term, actual and lasting change.

We want brands to work with unions on the ground and to listen to the opinions of those who know the conditions best – the workers themselves. Brands need to commit to improving building safety, working conditions and to ensuring workers are paid a living wage. As consumers, our role must be to push this change by asking relevant questions of the companies whose clothes we wear and by lobbying for change. Pressuring brands such as Primark to sign up to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which importantly places workers and local unions in a central role, can make a real difference to the lives of workers. As a consumer you have power beyond simply where you put your money. You have a voice.

Recent campaign successes, such as the 2,800 Indonesian workers from the PT Kizone factory who won a landmark settlement against Adidas, illustrate the power inherent when workers, unions and consumers worldwide unite. By signing petitions and writing to brand CEOs, you can make a positive impact by pressuring them to respect their workers rights.

Because we owe them. Not only for the cheap clothes we wear, but also because we are still here while they are not. We will go on fighting to ensure that never again should global brands deny their responsibilities until it is too late, and never again should they put profit over people. The death of the dust-covered man and woman who lost their lives in each others arms last week was tragically preventable. As have been the hundreds of other people who have died in factories such as Rana Plaza over the last decade. For them we will go on fighting. Never again should people risk their lives for the price of a cheap t-shirt.

 

By Ilana Winterstein.

First published in the Huffington Post, 2013

H&Ms sustainability promises will not deliver a living wage

Labour Behind the Label and the Clean Clothes Campaign are calling on H&M to show evidence to back up its ‘fair living wage’ claims, following the release of a new Sustainability Report. The campaign says that making marketing capital from workers’ poverty with little evidence of change is unethical and stands to slow down progress in the industry.

H&M, whose brand emblazons the Guardian’s ethical fashion pages and boasts a ‘conscious collection’ range, launched their roadmap to a living wage in 2013. The Swedish clothing giant has committed to paying 850,000 textile workers a ‘fair living wage’ by 2018, but the latest sustainability report, released today, contains no real figures to show progress towards this goal.

Carin Leffler from the Clean Clothes Campaign said: “Despite announcing partnership projects with the ILO, education schemes alongside Swedish trade unions, and fair wage rhetoric aplenty, H&M has so far presented disappointingly few concrete results that show progress towards a living wage. H&M are working hard on gaining a reputation in sustainability, but the results for workers on the ground are yet to be seen.”

Athit Kong, Vice President of the Cambodian garment workers’ union C.CADWU spoke out about his perception of H&M’s ‘fair living wage’ project: “H&M’s report does not accurately reflect the reality on the ground in Cambodia or Bangladesh and their PR rings hollow to workers who are struggling everyday to feed their families. A ‘sustainability’ model that is put forth and wholly controlled by H&M but is not founded in genuine respect for organized workers and trade unions on the ground is never going to result in real change for H&M production workers and only serves as a public relations façade to cover up systemic abuse.”

Clean Clothes Campaign’s further criticisms of the H&M wage scheme include the lack of a figure to define their living wage commitment and the brand’s choice is to start their wage pilot projects in factories where they own 100% of the output. Carin Leffler said: “Factories where buyers have this level of direct power don’t exist in 99% of the global garment industry, so H&M is unlikely to be able to upscale their ‘learning’. Any kind of credible wage pilot project needs to have defined benchmarks and include clear and time-bound plans for making progress happen in all factories, not just the few.”

Clean Clothes Campaign are calling on H&M to prove that there is a will to action behind their talk. They are calling on the brand, as a first and immediate step, to directly negotiate a better wage for Cambodia with the national union caucus and personally sign an enforceable brand agreement with them, alongside other brands, committing to raise the wage to a living wage level for all workers, as well agree on time-bound and swift implementation measures.

Ms Leffler added: “H&M must put pen to paper. This means: a public living wage benchmark to know and show where the wage hike should ultimately lead to, a more detailed strategy with time-bound benchmarks on how to scale up learnings across the entire supply chain of H&M, detailed and transparent reporting and publically account of progress made, and enter into direct negotiation in Cambodia in order to reach an enforceable brand agreement with the national union caucus.”

“H&M are good with words. We challenge them to follow up with the figures.”

LBL response to Primark statement on compensation

LBL response to Primark statement on compensation

Labour Behind the Label welcomes the commitment of Primark to provide a further round of short term relief to the workers of Rana Plaza and joins them in calling on the other brands linked to Rana Plaza to make similar contributions.

We have been working closely with Primark, Benetton, El Corte Ingles and Loblaw, the IndustriALL global union, the Bangladesh IndustriALL council, the Bangladesh Government and the Bangladesh Manufacturers and Exporters Association who, along with the Clean Clothes Campaign, have formed the the Rana Plaza Compensation Coordination Committee, chaired by the International Labour Organisation. This committee is working to develop an “Arrangement” under which both a fund and a mechanism for delivering compensation will be established.

Today we have asked Primark to clarify that they are not planning to work unilaterally on delivering long term compensation, and that they are committed to working through the above mentioned Committee to deliver long term compensation. They confirmed to us that the “scheme” they refer to in their press statement is in fact intended to refer to the scheme currently known as the “Arrangement” and that today they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, committing them to delivering compensation through this mechanism as soon as it is set up. We understand that their proposal for a unilateral compensation scheme will only come into operation should the Arrangement fail to get underway in a timely manner.

Labour Behind the Label believes that a collective process, under which a compensation fund can be established and a mechanism developed, is the only way to ensure full and fair compensation is delivered to ALL workers and families affected by this disaster. We urge all stakeholders prioritize getting the fund established as soon as is practically possible. The Clean Clothes Campaign is committed to doing its part in making sure this becomes a reality.

Finally, we join Primark in calling on all the other brands linked to Rana Plaza to commit to providing immediate short term relief to the victims and to commit to contributing sufficient funds into the Rana Plaza Compensation Fund to be set up by the “Arrangement”.

More information on the compensation negotiations can by found in our new report.