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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid