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Final Countdown for companies to sign Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord before 15 May midnight deadline

14 May, 2013The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh now covers more than 1,000 supplier factories after several multinationals signed up (H&M, Inditex, C&A, Primark/Penny, Tesco, PVH, and Tchibo). However IndustriALL, UNI Global Union and its NGO partners say it’s the final countdown for other companies to confirm their commitment before the 15 May midnight deadline (CEST). These companies are urged to do the right thing and sign up.

IndustriALL Global Union General Secretary, Jyrki Raina said,

May 13 was an important day in the fight for justice for the 1,127 Rana Plaza victims and hundreds of other garment workers injured and killed in Bangladesh, as industry-leading clothing brands retailers committed to work with us, to stay in the country and get rid of their unsustainable business model of extreme exploitation. A bloody t-shirt is not much cheaper than a clean one.

UNI Global Union General Secretary, Philip Jennings said, “The clock is ticking for companies such as Gap and Carrefour to show they care about their Bangladeshi supplier workforce. Their corporate reputations may be on the line but more importantly, so are the lives and livelihoods of these vulnerable factory workers in Bangladesh. Sign up before it’s too late, save lives and show you are a responsible employer. We are building a momentum for change and it won’t stop here.”

In acceding to the binding program of fire safety reforms based on independent inspections, worker-led health and safety committees and union access to factories, signatories commit to underwrite improvements in dangerous factories and properly confront fire safety and structural problems. Importantly the Accord grants workers the right to refuse dangerous work, in line with ILO Convention 155.

Yesterday, 13 May, the Bangladesh government of Prime Minister Sheikh Masina agreed to enact positive changes in the labour legislation to allow factory-level trade unions to form without the permission of employers.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is leading the push for reform of the labour law in Bangladesh. ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow wrote to Bangladesh’s Minister of Labour Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju on 9 May:

“I am deeply concerned to learn that the proposed amendments, which were recently passed by the cabinet, do not address the majority of concerns raised by the ILO Committee of Experts with regard to Conventions 87 and 98 nor address the priority amendments put forward by the trade unions. This is unacceptable.”

The ILO equally is pressuring the Bangladeshi government to adopt and enforce proper labour law reform in June. The high-level ILO mission to Dhaka in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster issued clear and strong recommendations including commitments on an ILO-compliant labour law reform by June focusing on freedom of association and collective bargaining, guarantees hundreds of new inspectors and extensive training programs.

The third priority change targeted to build a sustainable garment industry in Bangladesh is the campaign for a living wage. The minimum monthly wage of US$38 is a poverty wage. The IndustriALL Bangladesh Council’s unified demand on wages is for an immediate increase from 3000 taka per month to 5000, to be followed by incremental increases each year to arrive at a living wage in the year 2015, in a process similar to that seen in Vietnam currently.

The IBC is working on the ground at the Rana Plaza site in Savar, Dhaka. Very immediate challenges there include supplying food to the family members still waiting in hope of their loved one being pulled alive from the rubble after 17 days. Their wait is now more for the chance to recover the body and arrange the funeral for their sister, mother, or wife. Attention will also now turn to negotiating compensation for families of the murdered and injured.

The strong expectation for today is that other clothing retailers sign on to the Accord, not least the well-known US brands such as GAP. Presently PVH, owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein is the only US brand signed up. Companies targeted in Europe include Kik, Carrefour, Marks & Spencer and Next.