A Sea of Tribulations – The Tortured Tears of Rana Plaza

Surpassing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, Rana Plaza stands today as the biggest industrial disaster in recorded history with over 1200 deaths and thousands of injured, including hundreds of amputees, thousands of physically disabled, thousands suffering deep mental shocks, and an ever rising death toll succumbing to these injuries. There seems to be no end to these miseries, not even after two full years have passed.

Compensation

Victims of the Rana Plaza disaster still cry holding the rusted barbed wires twisted across the fences protecting the rubbles that still lay in the epicentre of the carnage site. Compensation did reach most, but it was either less or too less, or even inaccessible.

Most of the 600 injured victims we called to receive an update said that they got a compensation which was inadequate for their medical costs or their living costs. People with difficult family conditions and very serious injuries often ended up receiving less than those with conditions relatively less severe than them. There didn’t seem to be an explanation from any one on these inequalities.

While the mobile phone fund transfer has been a big success to access victims and give them money easily, it has new holes inside it. Many victims complained that they received less money, and some complained that they didn’t receive any. There are still many workers who give their friend’s or family member’s number for the money transfer as their cell phone doesn’t have that technology, or they do not know how to install or operate it, making them susceptible to fraud.

According to the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), BDT1.08 billion of the BDT1.27 billion deposited into the Prime Minister’s Relief and Welfare Fund following the Rana Plaza building collapse is yet to be disbursed two years after the world’s worst workplace disaster. This fund came from local sources, mainly commercial banks, in light of the disaster specifically for the victims and their families (The Daily Star, 23 April, 2015)

As per the Rana Plaza arrangement fund, US$2.8 million is yet to be accumulated to reach the revised US$30 million target set by the arrangement (it used to be US$ 40 million). However, in this US$ 27.3 million accumulated funds, US$ 4.57 million is only pledged, therefore not liquid (The Rana Plaza Arrangement, 2015). It must be noted that these funds also include all and every small sum given by the brands of any of the related NGOs since the last 2 years, which puts the chances of a decent lump sum handed to the injured workers of the families of deceased workers next to nothing. It has been very slow progress, and certainly, only the brands and their policies are responsible for it. Even the funds till now dispersed reached only a part of the victims, and that too unequal and with fraud committed which the victims claim openly, as also witnessed in the Rana Plaza anniversary where victims wailed their helplessness.

Who is the Criminal Here?

Although initially, the owner of Rana Plaza Mr. Soheil Rana was arrested, and has been denied bail, he still remains without a charge sheet, thus effectively, justice is being denied and he is not yet tried for his crimes.

More than this, the least talked about Spanish Managing Director of Phantom Tec, David Mayer Rico, is still at large. Rico ran away from Dhaka the afternoon after Rana Plaza collapsed, till now no law seem strong enough to prosecute this “buyer class” gentleman. There is no noise from any journalist, any national or international body, whether political or not, against his impunity. A very stark picture of today’s world and its double standards.

Every other criminal involved with the Rana Plaza tragedy have either never been captured, or have been given bail. With visible attempts to forget the Rana Plaza disaster, the administration has downplayed its responsibility, letting the wound be healed by itself – an impossible and dispassionate attempt nonetheless.

Future of Safety

Even after the efforts of the Accord and the Alliance, as well as BUET and the government, safety still is not tested. A huge chunk of Dhaka factories and garment making capacity is still not checked or listed in either local or international lists to be either inspected or documented. Such factories remain at risk and keep being documented by either journalists or once a disaster occurs, by the local Bangladeshi journalists.

Safety for workers comes with a stomach full of meal, and job security at a place from which they can come out alive at the end of a day. This still is something that has not yet been materialised. However, it is everyones dream.

rana3

However, till now, this endless tribulations seem to have no logical end. It seems to be that thorn in the throats of the privileged ones at every helm which needs to be swallowed and forgotten. But if forgotten, would this be justice? Without Justice, what is the purpose or meaning of peace … how can peace survive?

RISE Society.

Reference

The Daily Star, 23 April, 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.thedailystar.net/editorial/why-only-tk-19-crore-disbursed-rana-plaza-victims-78720

Donors, 26 April, 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.ranaplaza-arrangement.org/fund/donors

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Posted in Garment Worker Issues

Lest We Forget, 24 April

Today, suddenly, almost 1200 lives were lost, all in a moment. Thousands were injured, so critically, and so shocking were their experience, that many committed suicide and succumbed to their injuries.

Today is the second year after the Rana Plaza collapse. The casualties are still rising, the injured (mentally and physically) are still dying. The injustice is still happening.

Today there were many uproars, many tears, many cries … but no relief. How different is today than that fateful horrific day? RISE will come up with a report. However, today, we sit and wonder – with awe and shock – we wonder what we saw that day in the rubbles of Savar …

24 April, 2013. Lest we forget. R.I.P.

The Slain Ones ...

The Slain Ones …

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Posted in Garment Worker Issues

Wage Protest Continues at Home Stitch Designs Ltd.

It has been 5 days since workers of Home Stitch Designs Limited are protesting against the management of their factory for not paying their rightful wages or overtime since the last two months.

The protest started on 31 March 2015 when workers started protesting against their factory owner infront of the BGMEA building, demanding a payment of their 2 month due wage with overtime.

Protesting Workers at Homestich Design Limited

Protesting Workers at Homestich Design Limited

In face of the protests, the BGMEA held a meeting with Home Stitch Design’s management and promised a resolution on 2 April 2015. However, as 2 April 2015 came forth, and with no resolution in sight, workers took to their factory and surrounded it. They started a sit in protest with the factory Managing Director Mr. Aziz blocked inside his factory.

After such a long blockade (which continues into today, 5 April 2015), and strong protest from the 500 strong workers of the factory, the BGMEA along with the factory manager promised the workers their payments on 4 April 2015. On 4 April 2015, workers who arrived to take their payments found that the payments were only for one month of work, whereas the demand was the full payment of the two months work the workers have put into their factory along with their rightfully earned overtime payment. Not only have the workers not been paid fully and fairly, but the mid level staff members of the factory have also been denied of their two month worth payment of wages.

The workers, employees along with every protesting righteous groups and individuals have echoed the demands of the workers who are still in protest against the shameless action of their factory management and the BGMEA in denying the rightful wages of workers who in fact live impoverished lives and are exploited frequently and severely.

RISE Society.

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Posted in Garment Worker Issues

13 Dead In Mirpur Styrofoam Factory Fire

After a fire in a Styrofoam factory in Dhaka’s Mirpur Section 1 on 1 February 2015, 13 people have been confirmed dead. The six storied APCCO Complex went ablaze after an explosion around at 5 PM in the evening. According to various reports, more that 70 workers were inside the building when the fire started. Bini Bhushan Shib, the owner of the factory, received serious burn injuries and died on the spot.

Styrofoam factory fire

Styrofoam factory fire

According to the fire fighters, the van parked at the main gate of the building caught fire as gas cylinders exploded on the ground floor. They had pulled out eight charred bodies from the ground floor. Many of the workers started to escape through the windows, doors or any opening they could find for an escape.

During a spot visit, at least five mangled and exploded gas cylinders were seen. There were cracks on several walls of the building. DMC morgue sources said most of the deceased had been burnt beyond recognition.

Factory worker Imran Hossain Khan said, “Many of the workers came out but some got trapped inside as the fire engulfed the building quickly.” He said 150 people worked there in two shifts. Several workers of the factory suffered severe burn injuries. [The Daily Star, 2 February 2015]

Tawhidul Islam, 50, a security guard at the building who sustained 28 percent burn injuries, said, “Kamal Hossain, I and another security guard were having tea at the gate of the building. The van was loading there. We heard a loud bang and came running out of the building. But the tongues of fire already burnt me and Kamal.” [The Daily Star, 2 February 2015]

Kamal, also a security guard, received 35 percent burn injuries and is in a critical condition, said Burn Institute of DMCH sources. Rabiul, an injured, said about 40 workers of the factory were working on the ground floor when the fire broke out. One of the deceased was identified as Rashida Begum, 37, of Nalchity upazila of Jhalakathi. Her son Russell, 19, was working on the first floor and he escaped unhurt.

Eighteen fire engines doused the fire in about an hour and a half. Inside the building, the top floor of which was made of corrugated iron sheets, there were flammable materials, plastics and gas cylinders, believed to be the reason behind the fire spreading fast.

At the scene, law enforcers were struggling to control hundreds of onlookers crowding the spot. A  wall of the factory collapsed as over enthusiastic bystanders tried to enter the building after the fire was put out.

A three member probe committee was formed by the fire service. The committee is to submit its report in three days.

 

RISE Society (Source: Different News Papers and Spot witnesses)

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Posted in General Workers

Bangladesh Fails To Regain GSP – Improvements Not Enough

On Friday 16 January 2015, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) declared that although they acknowledge Bangladesh’s efforts towards improvement in fire and building safety, much is yet to be done with  regards to worker safety, freedom of association, safety of labor right activists and other points which are included in the 16 conditions (listed below) which the USTR demanded to be fulfilled by the Bangladesh Government in order to restore the General System of Preference (GSP).

The inspections carried out by the Accord and Alliance were mainly responsible for the the closure of at least 28 factories, the partial closure of 17 factories, and the identification of needed remedial measures in many more. Apart from the nearly 1700 factories inspected by the Accord and the Alliance, 380 factories have been inspected by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) as a part of the Government commitment to inspect the remaining factories outside the list of the Accord and the Alliance.

Inspection Status of Accord, Alliance and BUET, as of 15 September 2014. Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments, Bangladesh.

Inspection Status of Accord, Alliance and BUET, as of 15 September 2014. Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments, Bangladesh.

According to the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments, a total 65 factories were referred to Review Panel. Out of 65 factories 29 factories located in 12 buildings were closed, 17 factories located in 10 buildings were partially closed and 19 factories located in 12 buildings were allowed to operate [1].

Review Panel of factories, report as of 15 September 2014. Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments, Bangladesh.

Review Panel of factories, report as of 15 September 2014. Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments, Bangladesh.

According to the USTR Michael Froman, the government is responsible for the inspection of several hundred more factories and has hired additional inspection teams to carry out and sustain the inspection effort. However, as concerns remain over legal reforms to help freedom of association in Export Processing Zone areas (EPZs), rights of labor activists, labor abuses, and delayed and inefficient construction of an online database of garment workers are among the major reasons which contributed to Bangladesh’s failure to regain the United States GSP.

Congress created the GSP program in the Trade Act of 1974 to help developing countries expand their economies by allowing certain goods to be imported to the United States duty-free. Under the GSP program, 127 beneficiary developing countries are eligible to export up to 5,000 types of products to the United States duty-free. In 2012, the total value of imports that entered the United States duty-free under GSP was $19.9 billion, including $34.7 million from Bangladesh. Top GSP imports from Bangladesh in 2012 included tobacco, sports equipment, porcelain china, and plastic products. The United States will continue to accept imports from Bangladesh following this decision; however, none will be eligible for duty-free treatment under GSP while Bangladesh’s benefits remain suspended [2]. In fiscal 2013-14, Bangladesh exported goods worth more than $5.58 billion to the US, with 95 percent of them being garment products which are traditionally out of the GSP items, and which were subjected to 15.61 percent duty.

As it may very well be deduced that the Bangladesh economy does not get significantly hurt by the removal of the GSP facility by the United States in a direct way, it still fears a negative trend which could take out the all important European GSP where Bangladesh earns most of its benefits from and essentially where garment is included.

The negative impact of the US GSP removal is speculated to be a warning for future trade between Bangladesh and the United States, including the prospect of retaining the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status which benefits Bangladesh’s economic growth. According to the Bangladesh Economic Review (2014), during the last three years there was no Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflow from the United States to Bangladesh. In such circumstances, the repeated attempts of the Bangladeshi Government to regain the US GSP is crucial for the nation’s continued economic growth.

Meeting the 16 point conditions to regain the GSP is critical and are outlined in the action plan for restoration of GSP given by the USTR to Bangladesh; the 16 point conditions are as follows:

BANGLADESH ACTION PLAN 2013 [3]

The United States Government encourages the Government of Bangladesh (GOB) to take significant actions to provide a basis for reinstating Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits, including by implementing commitments under the “National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity” and taking the following actions:

Government Inspections for Labor, Fire and Building Standards 

  • Develop, in consultation with the International Labor Organization (ILO), and implement in line with already agreed targets, a plan to increase the number of government labor, fire and building inspectors, improve their training, establish clear procedures for independent and credible inspections, and expand the resources at their disposal to conduct effective inspections in the readymade garment (RMG), knitwear, and shrimp sectors, including within Export Processing Zones (EPZs).
  • Increase fines and other sanctions, including loss of import and export licenses, applied for failure to comply with labor, fire, or building standards to levels sufficient to deter future violations.
  • Develop, in consultation with the ILO, and implement in line with already agreed targets, a plan to assess the structural building and fire safety of all active RMG/knitwear factories and initiate remedial actions, close or relocate inadequate factories, where appropriate.
  • Create a publicly accessible database/matrix of all RMG/knitwear factories as a platform for reporting labor, fire, and building inspections, including information on the factories and locations, violations identified, fines and sanctions administered, factories closed or relocated, violations remediated, and the names of the lead inspectors.
  • Establish directly or in consultation with civil society an effective complaint mechanism, including a hotline, for workers to confidentially and anonymously report fire, building safety, and worker rights violations.

Ready Made Garments (RMG)/Knitwear Sector 

  • Enact and implement, in consultation with the ILO, labor law reforms to address key concerns related to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
  • Continue to expeditiously register unions that present applications that meet administrative requirements, and ensure protection of unions and their members from anti-union discrimination and reprisal.
  • Publicly report information on the status and final outcomes of individual union registration applications, including the time taken to process the applications and the basis for denial if relevant, and information on collective bargaining agreements concluded.
  • Register non-governmental labor organizations that meet administrative requirements, including the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) and Social Activities for the Environment (SAFE). Drop or expeditiously resolve pending criminal charges against labor activists to ensure workers and their supporters do not face harassment or intimidation. Advance a transparent investigation into the murder of Aminul Islam and report on the findings of this investigation.
  • Publicly report on the database/matrix identified above on anti-union discrimination or other unfair labor practice complaints received and labor inspections completed, including information on factories and locations, status of investigations, violations identified, fines and sanctions levied, remediation of violations, and the names of the lead inspectors.
  • Develop and implement mechanisms, including a training program for industrial police officers who oversee the RMG sector on workers’ freedom of association and assembly, in coordination with the ILO, to prevent harassment, intimidation and violence against labor activists and unions.

Export Processing Zones (EPZ) 

  • Repeal or commit to a timeline for expeditiously bringing the EPZ law into conformity with international standards so that workers within EPZ factories enjoy the same freedom of association and collective bargaining rights as other workers in the country. Create a government-working group and begin the repeal or overhaul of the EPZ law, in coordination with the ILO.
  • Issue regulations that, until the EPZ law has been repealed or overhauled, will ensure the protection of EPZ workers’ freedom of association, including by prohibiting “blacklisting” and other forms of exclusion from the zones for labor activities.
  • Issue regulations that, until the EPZ law is repealed or overhauled, will ensure transparency in the enforcement of the existing EPZ law and that require the same inspection standards and procedures as in the rest of the RMG sector.

Shrimp Processing Sector 

  • Actively support ILO and other worker-employer initiatives in the shrimp sector, such as the March 2013 Memorandum of Agreement, to ensure the strengthening of freedom of association, including addressing anti-union discrimination and unfair labor practices.
  • Publicly report on anti-union discrimination or other unfair labor practice complaints received and labor inspections completed, including information on factories and locations, status of investigations, violations identified, fines and sanctions levied, remediation of violations, and the names of the lead inspectors.

RISE Society.

—————–

[1] http://database.dife.gov.bd/

[2] http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/press-releases/2013/june/michael-froman-gsp-bangladesh

[3] http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/press-releases/2013/july/usg-statement-labor-rights-factory-safety

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Posted in Garment Worker Issues

The Crucial Right To Justice – Bangladeshi Garment Workers

The Bangladeshi Garment Industry has shown remarkable resilience over the years with strong growth in times of global financial hard times. Some of the industry’s success is credited to its focus on low end garment whose demand remains strong in most economic conditions as it is cheap. However, for Bangladesh to overcome China and beat competition from emerging South East Asian economies, it must aim for the high end clothing market with greater worker efficiency, better technology, and sustainable practices of our garment factories with increasing flexibility towards worker organization and empowerment.

With over 5% share of the Global Market for Garment Products, second only to China’s about 31% share of the same [1], Bangladesh is trying hard to take as much of the market as possible from China’s decreasing share.

Troubled Growth

Regardless of the growth and increased productivity, the standard of life and its security has not improved at equal rate for the garment workers, resulting in numerous death and injuries caused in factories all across the country.

growth

A Decade of Export Growth in Comparison to Labour Force Growth. Source: Complied by RISE from, EPB, BGMEA, ILO and the Daily Star Bangladesh.

The fires and structural problems have caused at least 1710 deaths since 1990 till 2013 if tallied as we did below. However it must be noted that there are other claims that between 1468 [2] and 1800 [3] workers have lost their lives in dozens of garment factory disasters since as recent as 2005 beginning with the Spectrum Factory collapse.

Dead and Wounded in Garment Factories Between 1990 - 2013

Dead and Wounded in Garment Factories Between 1990 – 2013. Source: Compiled by RISE.

According to a survey conducted by the BGMEA under its fire safety crash programs in 2011 [4], a total of 168 fire incidents happened in RMG units from 1990 to October 2009. The toll of deceased recorded to be 222 in 19 factories. The report said ‘One garment factory blazed in 1990, three in 1995, one in 1996, six in 1997, four in 1998, 16 in 1999, 19 in 2000, 23 in 2001, 09 in 2002, 15 in 2003, 16 in 2004, nine in 2005, 15 in 2006, fourteen in 2007 six in 2008, ten in 2009 and four in 2010’. The survey recorded 47 fire incidents from 2006 to January 2010. Of the total, 10 took place due to electric short circuits and the rest are termed as ‘unknown reasons’.

On the backdrop of such calamities, Bangladesh came up with an amendment of the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 (amendment 2013), and a fresh new (and controversial) minimum wage 2013 as well as an EPZ minimum wage 2013. Heavily criticized and contested, these new minimum wages came about after a lot of struggle and bloodshed, with workers asking for an 8000BDT minimum wage which would be according to their minimum subsistence demands in the current prices of commodities in the country. Although following the declaration of minimum wages, a poor display of implementation has been observed since then specially across factories outside the export processing zones, there still has been yet another attempt to advance the cause of workers in the form of the much awaited wage guideline 2014 of the Sweater factories of Bangladesh.

Apart from these attempts for reform, there have been efforts from global stake holders, Brands and the Bangladesh Government to improve work place safety as a measure to improve the image of the supply chain in an effort to boost consumer confidence and bring about better chances of a sustainable future for this sector. The effects thereof on the workers have been mixed, and the load levied on the factory owners have been one of argument and counter argument by interest groups across the table. Amidst all this, however, the Garment Industry in Bangladesh have still been able to witness solid growth in its traditional markets and the opening of new markets with promising potential such as China, India, Russia and Japan.

Growth in emerging markets

Growth in Emerging Markets (EPB, 2013/14)

Knitwear growth

Growth in Knitwear Export in Traditional Markets (EPB, 2013/14)

woven growth

Growth in Woven Export in Traditional Markets (EPB, 2013/14)

 

 

Garment exports grew by 14% on 2014 (EPB, 2014) in 2013/14 fiscal year from 2012/13. But the total exports were 1 percent below the target of US$30.5 billion. The tables above display robust growth in traditional markets for Bangladeshi garment, where markets performing better than the average growth of 14% are highlighted in green, while markets which grew less than the average growth (or contracted) in 2013/14 fiscal year have been highlighted in pink. A positive early sign of Bangladesh’s successful efforts towards gaining greater share of market from China is its growth in the Chinese market being strongest in the Emerging markets category of the tables above.

Security At Work

As growth must be driven by productivity, sustained by cheap labor, supported by smooth flow of raw materials while strengthened by greater influence over the policy making bodies of the State, it became obvious that the our dominant industry would get together to control all the determinants to keep their business expanding.

Buyers have always made it clear that they came to Bangladesh for its cheap and efficient labour, and would stay in Bangladesh for that only. The ships would most certainly remove their anchors from Bangladeshi shores once they realize that the profit margins are not the same anymore. Our factory owners clearly got the message, and the workers had to pay the price with their lives.

With growing demand and extra work load, workers ended up working long hours toiling in over crowded factory floors, boiling hot, smelly and often without clean water or sufficient air, having to cope with every coercing mechanism developed by human greed since centuries. In crumbling buildings, the cheapest of their kinds, factory owners even went as far as starting factories in buildings built for residential purposes. The Brands, with little concern of workers, emerged with fantastic ideas of employing audit systems which would conveniently issue a piece of paper which they could market as certifying their ethical and responsible purchasing practices, which clearly kept proving to be insufficient and useless with successive factory disasters.

Still, with the pain and suffering which no worker anywhere in the world can deserve, workers in Bangladesh kept on with the struggles they faced for the opportunity to feed their family. The greatest security of all, they valued the security of seeing another day in life where they would be able to sleep under a shed and eat a bowl of rice which would satisfy their hunger.

Hunger, shelter and family have always been the greatest security for man since the stone age, and continues to be so in impoverished placed like Bangladesh, among its most impoverished industrial working class citizens. Structural security, however important and vital, have always come much later. This is the first and foremost reason why workers of Rana Plaza, fully aware of the fatal cracks that had developed in their factory and for which they wanted to refrain from working in that building, found themselves compelled to go in and continue working. They were threatened that their wages would not be paid, the bonuses would be denied, and they would have to loose their jobs and benefits. The little money that they get were their security against hunger, homelessness, even dying loved ones whom they might not be able to help. They went in, only to die of causes which for them were secondary, a fact still testified by many Rana Plaza workers we have talked with at RISE.

However, with the fire at Tazreen Fashion and the subsequent catastrophic collapse of Rana Plaza, the Accord came about followed by the Alliance which complemented the NTAP.

With approximately 1700 factories between them, the Accord and the Alliance have completed their first phase of inspections [5][6].

Although the Accord was skeptical at the beginning [7] over the nature and procedure of the Alliance and its inspections, it is now open to integrate with the Alliance’s inspections, which also helps to complete its own inspections on schedule. The Alliance has completed 100% of their inspections in 587 factories while the Accord has completed inspections in 1106 of their 1500 factories where they have expressed their move to associate with the 300 common factories between them and the Alliance which have already been inspected by the Alliance; however, a 100 factories of Accord signatories are yet to be inspected.

The Accord has been a promising venture where Trade Unionists were made an integral part of the Steering Committee which would be overseen by INGOs, along with Brand signatories. It positions itself as a binding agreement with buyers. However, when it comes to factory closures and paying off compensation to workers who ultimately loose their jobs and pay, the Accord has been less than clear on their scheme to solve this problem [8]. Their comment on this revolves around the brand which is supposed to communicate with the factory owner to pay affected workers on factory closure, which is far from what is happening on ground with most of the factories closed by the accord. Thus, it will not be too much of an exaggeration to claim that the accord swiftly fails to address one of the major concerns of the workers – and that is their wage – more than any right or any demand.

The Alliance, which have been a more brand driven initiative, have come up with a major difference in this matter. It ensures workers affected due to factory closures getting paid according to the Bangladeshi legal provisions [9], with a 10% fixed for this purpose from its Worker Safery Fund of US$ 1m. Addressing this major concern of wage was followed with an important amendment clearing the “right of the worker to refuse unsafe work”, and an effort to integrate Trade Union perspective to its operations.

Both the Accord and the Alliance now have the major challenge of working to facilitate the financing of factory remediation plans which are the main concern of the whole idea. In this regard VF Corp, a signatory of the Alliance, came forward to facilitate finances for factory remediation. Till now, signatory brands are yet to show clear financial commitments to the remedial plans of the factories [10], something that should be naturally expected more from the Accord due to the binding nature of its agreement.

With more than 5000 Garment Factories [11] where a major portion are factories making for Accord and Alliance signatory brands by means of subcontracting are out of the inspections of these initiatives, and remain at risk of disasters unless corrective measures are not taken by these initiatives or the government itself.

 

Right to Salary, Benefit, Association, Strike and Leisure 

The right to salary is something that has always faced challenge in Bangladesh. The usual scenes of unrest, burning cars and vandalized factories are far too common on the streets of Ashulia, Savar, Narayanganj and Mirpur. The recent case of 5 Tuba Group factories namely Tuba Fashion Limited, Tuba Textile Mills Limited, Mita Designs Limited, Taif Designs Limited and Bughsan Garment were closed down under the Bangladesh Labor Act 2006 (amend. 2013), Section 13 (1) citing unlawful strike due to which workers would loose their right to benefits and the owner Mr. Delwar Hossain would get complete authority to close down the factories unilaterally.

The Tuba Group workers of these 5 factories worked tirelessly just before the FIFA World Cup 2014, shipping jersey consignments worth millions of dollars, waiting for their rightful salaries, overtime wages and festival bonuses before the one festival they wait for the entire year – the Eid festival. However, much to their dismay, they were denied of their 3 month wages, let alone bonuses, for which they had to protest and go for hunger strikes to the point of death.

This only brought back the imprisoned Delwar Hossain, prisoned for criminal negligence due to the infamous Tazreen Fashions Inferno which took the life of 124 workers. The scenario as presented by the BGMEA was that only Mr. Delwar Hossain could help the workers get their wages, and thus a bail was extremely necessary in the dire circumstances.

As soon as Mr. Delwar Hossain appeared, the workers received their wages gradually, but their bonuses remained denied and has never been given since. The factories declared closed on the basis of a misused law have been closed without paying the workers their arrears/benefits. A gross violation of human rights, and a far too common sight during festival holidays when the rest of the country looks forward to beautiful moments with their family and friends.

Leisure, an important human right associated with entertainment, is a distant dream for garment workers in Bangladesh. Just as it was for the Tuba Group workers who worked overtime, tirelessly through day and night, hoping to retain their jobs and earn some precious overtime money to be able to buy something extra on that auspicious festival night for their children; a dream which shattered into pieces when their murderous owner came back to burn their dreams like he burned those previously in Tazreen Fashions.

Pre Festival weeks are a time of long working hours going well into late night and pre dawn mornings. Such overtime demands are forced labor which cannot be denied, and are met with harsh treatments if avoided. Due to absence of trade unions in factories, there is no association of workers to carry forward their concerns, a situation carefully maintained by factory owners by employing spies among workers who would inform any attempt to unionize so that thei worker trying to unionize can be spotted and fired on dubious charges.

The right to form Trade Unions is still a dream for the EPZ workers in Bangladesh as well. Although an important and decisive factor for the US GSP facility, the Commerce Minister still made it clear that no further amendments in the EPZ labour Act 2014 can be made to accommodate with demands for trade unions in the EPZ area [13], fearing the investors moving out of the EPZ areas where investments crucial to the economy is made.

With such being the condition of the right to wage, benefit, association, strike and leisure, it is not hard to see that we have miles to go and the ground we have covered are only circles of useless wits.

Incomplete Justice Is No Justice

With the Tazreen Fashion fire victims still to be fully compensated from the Government funds as well as all the brands which were manufacturing there, justice still remains at bay. Although commendable efforts are followed on by C&A, Li & Fung, more brands were manufacturing in that unfortunate factory and they have still managed to remain unmoved by the sheer human loss. With Mr Delwar Hossain on bail and enjoying the winds of freedom – Justice is further at bay for Tazreen victims than it ever was before.

Rana Plaza workers still suffer through loss of limbs, physical ability to work or in many cases to lead a normal life. Those alive and physically less injured still carry deep psychological wounds that may never be healed. Rana Plaza victims are still far from compensated completely. The arrangement [14] is gathering the funds slowly, but for some victims the wait might never be completed before their lifespan is. With Mr. Soheil Rana yet to face a chargesheet, justice is still a far cry for this disaster which surely will go down in history as the most grizzliest factory disasters of modern times.

For factory owners the cold shoulder of brands are an everyday reality which they deal with. It is always about the price, and the factory owners is expected to reach the standards while maintaining his factory in rock bottom prices. Brands often hold press conferences expressing their interest in “other destinations” worrying over increasing prices in Bangladesh, however readily ask for rebates [15] when they feel the need for themselves – even in times when the industry is going through challenges where it must fix itself to meet the desired standards of its clients.

Top Down For Bangladesh

Brands are the ultimate decision makers when it comes to the Bangladeshi Garment Industry. Neither the workers, their unions, nor the factories and our Government has too much space or power to make the changes that brands can enforce with their bargaining power.

Bangladesh at the moment markets its cheap labour, which gives a clear picture of the situation of the trade and its balance of power.

Weak trade union federations are an unfortunate feature of labour representation in Bangladesh where the strongest of these Federations are found most often to be completely undemocratic; most lead by men with political backgrounds and having never been a worker himself.  With massive conflict of interest with the elite (which usually own the factories in Bangladesh), and a small percentage of workers unionized in unions which are mostly ineffective due to factory policies and its internal politics or even lack of training, the worker representation is not in a state to drive a change in Bangladesh anytime soon, although, it supported, it does have the capacity to be a great support for any change that is to be brought to the sector.

The Accord, Alliance, NTPA, Government factory inspections have been influenced by the Top Down structure, coming into any reasonable effect since Tazreen and Rana Plaza disasters when buyers expressed their commitment for a better working condition for their own image’s sake.

The sector can improve with the brand leading the effort, with western buying nations supporting such effort. Brands must understand that changing destinations will not solve the problem, and if it needs to be solved, Bangladesh is the right place to solve the issues surrounding sustainability. An integrated effort where factory owners encouraging proper worker representation, lead by the brand which is driven by consumer demand, can only bring limitless benefits to all the parties in the supply chain. It is certainly not impossible, if of course the incentive is right. Now perhaps the only question that remains is at what cost will the change in the brand’s attitude towards owning its responsibilities offshore be?

 

RISE Society

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[1] http://www.thedailystar.net/30b-garment-exports-hinge-on-tech-upgrade-12268

[2] http://www.cleanclothes.org/resources/publications/fatal-fashion-in-bangladesh-def.pdf

[3] http://www.laborrights.org/sites/default/files/publications/Testimony_by_ILRF.pdf

[4] http://www.apparel.com.bd/?p=2570

[5] http://bangladeshaccord.org/2014/10/accord-reaches-important-milestone-completing-initial-inspections-factories-bangladesh/

[6] http://www.bangladeshworkersafety.org/files/2014-annual-report/Alliance_AnnualReport_Accomplishments.pdf

[7] http://newagebd.net/40980/accord-alliance-rift-deepens-over-rmg-factory-inspection/#sthash.go8EobXT.dpbs

[8] http://bangladeshaccord.org/2014/04/accord-statement-critical-findings-factory-inspections-lead-suspension-operations-evacuation-factory-buildings/

[9] http://www.bangladeshworkersafety.org/files/2014-annual-report/Alliance_AnnualReport_Accomplishments.pdf

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/oct/20/inspections-garment-factories-bangladesh-fashion-business-accord-alliance

[11] http://www.stern.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/assets/documents/con_047408.pdf

[12] http://bangladeshinside.com/sustainability/legal-cid012/no-trade-union-workers-welfare-associations-at-epz-5641

[13] http://bangladeshinside.com/sustainability/legal-cid012/no-trade-union-workers-welfare-associations-at-epz-5641

[14] http://www.ranaplaza-arrangement.org/fund/donors

[15] http://www.thedailystar.net/major-us-retailer-seeks-refund-from-local-suppliers-58537

 

Key Words:

EPB – Export Promotion Bureau

EPZ – Export Processing Zones

NTAP – National tripartite Action Plan

 

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Posted in Garment Worker Issues

Fire in Mirpur Scrap Garment Shops

More than120 scrap garment fabric shops burned in a blaze today, 14 January 2015, at the city’s Mirpur 10 area.

https://i0.wp.com/www.dhakatribune.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/870x488_article_high/article/thumb/2014/11/01/fire-400x225.jpg

11 fire fighter units rushed to the spot and doused the fire after hours-long effort along with help of locals within 4:00pm in the evening. However the reason of the fire is still unknown.

Mirpur is an area known for being a hub of garment factories which many livelihoods revolving around the factories and its produce, labor and scraps. These scraps are traded for various garment, furniture and other commodities which are not only traded in the local market but also used to manufacture exportable goods.

Till now no reports of casualties have come across, although the material loss is expected to be formidable.

RISE Society

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Garment Worker Issues
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