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

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid