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European Parliament adopts resolution on factory fires

22 January, 2013European Parliament passes resolution on recent textile factory fires in South Asia, calling on the Bangladeshi and Pakistani governments to investigate, ensure health and safety compliance, establish independent inspection systems and lift restrictions on trade union activities.

The European Parliament passed the resolution on 17 January 2013 against the backdrop of the frequent killing of hundreds of workers in South Asia’s garment factory accidents. Notably in Bangladesh alone an estimated 600 garment workers were killed since 2005 in factory fires. In Karachi, Pakistan at least 289 people perished in a factory blaze in September 2012, and at least 112 people died at the Tazreen factory fire, in the Ashulia district, Dhaka, Bangladesh on 24 November 2012.

The resolution states that many of these accidents could have been prevented had the factories followed safety standards. It criticizes the lack of respect for labour rights, fire safety standards and governments’ inaction to punish factory owners, who are responsible for criminal negligence.  It underlines the escalating tension between trade unionists, labour activists and Bangladeshi government over poor wages and working conditions. Importantly, the resolution urges the Bangladeshi government to investigate the torture and murder of labour rights activist Aminul Islam in April 2012.

European parliamentarians also expressed regret over some of the brand’s initial denial of their connection with Tazreen factory. The resolution welcomed the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement between trade unions, NGOs and multinational textile retailers and the called upon the textile brands to support this effort. It urged all stakeholders to combat corruption in the supply chain including collusion between safety inspectors and factory owners.

It welcomed some of the European retailers’ contribution to compensation schemes and called for free medical rehabilitation of the injured and care for deceased workers' dependent family members. It called on all stakeholders, including the European Commission, “to work together to look at developing a voluntary labelling standard certifying that a product was manufactured in accordance with the ILO's core labour standards.”

It calls on the Commission to actively promote mandatory responsible business conduct among EU companies operating abroad, with a special focus on ensuring strict compliance with all their legal obligations, in particular international standards and rules in the areas of human rights, labour and the environment. Further the resolution called for training of EU trade officers on CSR issues and in particular with respect to the implementation of the UN ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework, and for EU delegations to function as EU contact points for complaints concerning EU companies and their subsidiaries.

The resolution notes the important role that can be played by workers and trade unions, for example through the continued development of worker-led safety committees in all factories, and the importance of access to factories for unions in order to educate workers on how they can protect their rights and their safety, including their right to refuse unsafe work.