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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs