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IndustriALL, UNI and ITUC visit Bangladesh

6 June, 2013A joint mission of IndustriALL, UNI and ITUC visits Dhaka to push for a labour law reform and implementation of the historic Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh which more than 40 leading clothing brands have signed.

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is our strong response to the recent horrific catastrophes in the Bangladeshi garment industry. Negotiated between IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union, and over 40 of the most progressive global fashion brands, the Accord is not just another voluntary initiative. It is a binding agreement with a complaints mechanisms and real consequences for non-compliance.
In the last week of May, IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and ITUC jointly visited Dhaka, Bangladesh. The purpose of the joint mission was to push for progress on trade union rights, decent work, minimum wage raise, and the acceptance and implementation of the Accord. Meetings took place with the Bangladesh Secretary of Labour and the Deputy Secretary of Labour, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), IndustriALL-affiliated trade unions, and a number of non-governmental organizations working to improve conditions in Bangladesh.
The meetings confirmed the many challenges faced by Bangladeshi workers: inadequate labour laws, inadequate enforcement, a labour movement that is still in many ways just finding its voice, and a powerful but defensive garment industry. There are thousands of ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh, and the problems are so extensive that implementing the Accord will be a daunting task. Building inspections and fire safety training are both crucial and urgent, but a healthy safe and sustainable garment industry must be built on a solid foundation of respect for human rights, labour rights, and decent work.
Brian Kohler, IndustriALL’s director for health, safety and sustainability, reports from Savar close to Dhaka a month after the industrial homicide:

Reading about events such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza building is one thing, but even though a month has passed, seeing the site somehow put the scale of the horror in a different perspective. Something like 4000 people, plus or minus a few hundreds, worked tightly-packed with their machines in a small building in the tropical heat of Dhaka. It is nearly impossible to imagine what working conditions were like. The official death toll is 1129 but there are still many unaccounted for.

Thousands were injured, many maimed for life with horrific injuries. At least two pregnant women gave birth while trapped under the rubble. The site still smells of rotting flesh. The building, built on swampland, was only supposed to be four stories residential - and was improperly built at that - but the owner added four more, then overloaded it with heavy, vibrating industrial equipment and people. It will not be the last building to collapse in Dhaka. On April 24, 2013, at least 1129 human beings paid a very high price for other people's low prices. None of us are innocent, really, 

concludes Kohler.
A global levelling up of standards must replace the race to the bottom. The task in Bangladesh is a start. It will not be an easy one, but neither is it an impossible one. Successful implementation of the Accord in Bangladesh will create a model for other parts of the world and other industrial sectors that are equally in need of attention but have not suffered the same headline-grabbing events as Bangladesh.