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Progress in fight for Bangladesh garment workers

Posted on: April 25, 2014 2:52 PM
The aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse
Photo Credit: Jaber Al Nahian via flickr
Related Categories: Bangladesh

The Church of Bangladesh is reporting some success in its Justice for Bangladeshi Garment Workers Campaign, but says that much more still needs to be done.

The campaign was launched by the Church of Bangladesh after 1,129 people, mostly garment workers, were killed following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building a year ago this week. The campaign is now a coalition of Christian churches and organisations, including the Anglican mission agency Us (formerly USPG), Anglican Alliance, Church Mission Society, the Church in Wales' Diocese of Llandaff, the Church of Scotland, Council for World Mission, Methodist Church in Britain and the Oxford Mission.

Amongst the successes reported so far, the campaign has secured new legal safety standards for Bangladesh factories and more pay for the lowest paid garment workers. In addition, 150 global high-street brands are now working with local trade unions to make garment factories safe.

"Bangladesh is second only to China as a global exporter of garments, so it is likely we are all buying clothes made in Bangladesh," said the Us director for global relations, Rachel Parry. "While celebrating the successes, there is still much to do. Asda (Walmart), Sports Direct, Peacocks and Gap, among others, have not yet signed the Safety Accord, so these retailers need increased pressure. Child labour is also a major issue."

The campaign group is urging Christians in developed countries, who benefit from the cut-price clothing produced in Bangladesh, to put pressure on retailers.

Bangladesh has one of the highest wage inequalities in the world, and wages in the industry went down between 2001 and 2011 - wages in the garment industry are well below the country's living wage. It is also a dangerous industry - an estimated 1,800 garment workers have been killed in factory fires or collapses since 2005.

Last year's Rana Plaza disaster was the worst garment factory accident, and deadliest accidental structural failure, in history. In addition to the fatalities, some 2,500 were injured. More than half the victims were women and their children.

The Plaza contained garments factories, a bank, apartments and shops. Factory managers ignored cracks which were discovered in the building. A government inquiry later found five main reasons for the collapse: shoddy construction materials, corrupt building practices, flouting of building codes, vibrating industrial equipment at the top of a commercial building, and people being forced into an unsafe structure.

The campaign group is calling for:

  • Security for workers, protection from fire and unhygienic conditions in the factories keeping factory gates open with guards during working hours
  • Fair wages with equal pay for men and women
  • Facilities on-site for infants and babies of women garment workers
  • Health facilities for pregnant women garment workers
  • Canteen facilities for lunch and breaks
  • Safety uniforms and equipment for those doing risky work
  • Holidays for festivals, sickness and family circumstances
  • An industry wide forum to work with government to improve industry standards.