News / Asia

Can Worker Safety Momentum in Bangladesh Last?

A Bangladeshi rescuer stands amid the rubble of a garment factory building that collapsed on April 24 as they continue searching for bodies in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 12, 2013.
A Bangladeshi rescuer stands amid the rubble of a garment factory building that collapsed on April 24 as they continue searching for bodies in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 12, 2013.
Pamela Dockins
Human rights and labor advocates are welcoming a joint agreement by clothing retailers and brand name companies that calls for improving conditions for garment factory workers in Bangladesh.  

Western retailers, most of them European, agreed to the plan after a building housing garment factories in Dhaka collapsed last month, killing more than 1,100 people.  

Some advocates, however, are concerned that efforts to improve working conditions in the country will fade as the Dhaka tragedy moves out of the news spotlight.

Amnesty International advocacy director T. Kumar said the steps that Western retailers have taken, so far, are remarkable.

But on VOA's Press Conference USA, he questioned if the momentum would last.

"Our fear is whether it will last long.  Whether it’s an immediate, knee-jerk reaction,” he said.

Western retailers agreed to a broad safety plan that requires them to conduct inspections and cover the costs of safety upgrades.

Top global brands such as Italy's Benetton and Sweden's H&M are part of the agreement, which was led by the International Labor Organization.

Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights director Charles Kernaghan said the new multinational safety agreement is a "turning point" for the garment industry, whose workers are mainly women.

“This is a game changer and it never would have happened if these poor young women were not crushed to death, and suffocated to death and burned to death in collapse of the Rana Plaza building,” he said.

He said there is "always the possibility" that retailer enthusiasm for monitoring safety standards could dim.

Kernaghan said while the Bangladeshi government has a role in enforcing safety and improving work conditions, the real power lies with the retailers who are supporting an industry that employs more than 4 million garment workers.

"The U.S. companies, North American companies, European companies are in Bangladesh specifically because it has the lowest wages in the world.  Twelve cents an hour for helpers, 22 cents for junior sewers, 26 cents for senior sewers, 13 to 14.5 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week.  Basically the workers get just two days off a month," said Kernaghan.

The new agreement addresses some of these concerns by setting new standards for worker rights.

The provision calls for establishing an advisory board that will facilitate talks among governments, retailers and trade unions.  

It also sets up a fire and building safety training program.

Noticeably missing from the agreement is Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer.  The U.S.-based company has come up with its own plan, which includes inspections of all 279 of its suppliers' factories in Bangladesh.

Also, the GAP chain of stores says it will not be part of the agreement unless changes are made to limit legal liability.

T. Kumar said the reluctance of these two U.S. companies to be part of the agreement is unfortunate.

“In the U.S., multinational corporations are very powerful and they resist any pressure upon them to tie them to any standards,” he said.

The National Retail Federation, the largest U.S. retailing association, called the agreement a "one-size-fits-all" approach that does not recognize how the industry operates in various parts of the world.

In a statement, the association said a North American worker safety group is crafting initiatives to improve safety at factories in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the Bangladeshi government said it is doing its part to improve safety.

Since the April building collapse, the government has shut down some garment factories for safety reasons.  The government has also announced plans to raise the minimum wage and enact measures that will allow for the easier formation of labor unions.

Amnesty’s T. Kumar welcomed these measures, but said the Bangladeshi government must follow through on promises to improve standards.  Local authorities must also enforce existing building codes and fight endemic corruption.

T. Kumar said he hopes the current momentum to improve worker standards in the country will continue and lead to policies that prevent multinational corporations from taking advantage of what he calls "cheap labor" and "weak legal systems."

You May Like

US Storm Falls Short of Severe Predictions, Yet Affects Millions

NYC mayor says, 'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' yet blizzard warnings, travel bans remain for several East Coast states More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle with Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people were displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid