The fire emerged during lunch time on 26 January at a small garment factory Smart Fashions in Bangladesh capital Dhaka. The 7 reported victims have all been identified and are all female workers between 15 to 28 years old. The factory is said to employ 300 workers.
Reportedly, garments for some famous brands including Bershka and Lefties (Inditex), KIK, New Look, were found on site. Inditex says that it was not aware of an unauthorized subcontractor to an Inditex supplier with poor fire safety conditions. Inditex and IndustriALL Global Union have agreed on joint action based on their global framework agreement. It covers also suppliers and their subcontractors, which shall provide a safe and healthy workplace to their employees. The incident demonstrates the difficulties major companies have in controlling their global supply chains.
Soon after the tragedy at Smart Garments, Inditex and IndustriALL exchanged information they received from their partners and affiliates in Bangladesh, and started working on a remediation action plan. A joint mission will arrive in Dhaka on Tuesday 5 February to examine the situation and discuss necessary measures to minimize the effects of the incident to the victims.
Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union commented, “It is with great sadness that we have learned of another fire incident that claimed the lives of seven young female colleagues in the garment sector and caused injuries to many other workers. As in the Tazreen Fashion case, poor safety conditions resulted in a tragedy at Smart Fashion. Our deepest condolences go to the families of the perished and injured workers.”
“IndustriALL Global Union is calling for urgent and serious action to prevent further tragedies. We invite all major international brands, national employers and the government of Bangladesh to start an urgent discussion with us on a concrete plan of action. It must include strict health and safety regulations, efficient inspection and union participation in workplace cooperation, ensuring freedom of association in line with internationally recognized ILO labour standards, and a program to raise minimum wages to at least living wage levels in the country,” added Raina.
Over 4,500 factories operate in the garment sector of Bangladesh. Working conditions remain poor and the wage for most workers amounts to 3000 BDT ($38 US) per month making it only one third of a living wage in Bangladesh. After years of service, based on seniority, a worker can eventually reach 5,500 BDT (approximately $70 US).
Very few factories are unionized, despite the effort of trade unions to get registration enabling them to conduct collective bargaining. In the Dhaka region out of 26 unions fulfilling the condition of majority representation at the enterprises only one has so far received official registration enabling them to bargain collectively. Hence the difficulty for the workers to raise their concerns on safety to a trusted entity: a union which could bargain with the employers on safety issues among others.
Prior to the incident, on 23 January, Monika Kemperle, Assistant General Secretary of IndustriALL met with the buyers’ representatives in Bangladesh where both recognized the importance of engaging all stakeholders for a common approach and that the government takes primary responsibility in ensuring the safety of the workers.
Together with affiliates IndustriALL will join an ILO Conference promoting fundamental principles and rights at work which will take place on 3 to 4 February in Dhaka. This conference will serve to make strategic planning and to analyze needs and build capacity of garment sector trade unions in Bangladesh.