Global union determined to drive change in Bangladesh
The general secretary of the worldwide federation representing garment workers has told just-style the group is "determined to take all the necessary action" to bring about a real change in the Bangladeshi ready-made garment industry.
Jyrki Raina, who heads IndustriALL, which brings together 217 major trade unions worldwide representing workers in the garment and textile industries, believes the solution to improving worker safety is to address "all problems with the involvement of all stakeholders as a matter of urgency."
His comments come after nearly 120 workers lost their lives in two fires at Bangladesh apparel factories in the space of just two months, the most recent of which occurred at the end of January. It is estimated that since 2006, more than 700 apparel workers have died in the country's 4,500 garment factories.
The feedback also follows two recent articles on just-style looking at the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement (BFBSA) campaign and whether it is managing to make a mark.
The global trade union federation signed up to the BFBSA in September 2012, saying the programme's independent building inspections, worker rights training, public disclosure and a long-overdue review of safety standards have "the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers currently at risk."
Following the fire at Tazreen Fashion at the end of November last year, IndustriALL re-iterated its call for brands to sign the agreement. Raina says the union federation "continues to support and promote" the agreement, describing it as "a mechanism and resources for addressing one important problem area."
But he also highlights the involvement of the Bangladeshi government as a key for "sustainable change". The first step towards this goal was achieved with a tripartite statement signed in Bangladesh in January by representatives from the government, employers' associations and worker organisations.
This tripartite group is working to "ensure fire safety in every workplace in Bangladesh" with an action plan due to be drawn up by the end of February.
For Raina, however, the blaze at the Smart Export Garment factory at the end of January served to highlight that "the profound unsustainability of the Bangladeshi textile and garment industry is not only related to fire safety."
Fundamental issues highlighted by IndustriALL also include a lack of freedom of association, which keeps union density in the sector at below 1%, as well as poor pay and conditions for workers.
"Following harassment by employers and rejection by authorities of applications for local union registration, there are very few functioning factory level unions in the country, and thus no functioning labour-management relations or health and safety committees at the workplace level," Raina explains.
In the Dhaka region, of the 26 unions fulfilling the condition of majority representation at workplaces, only one has received official registration to bargain collectively with employers on issues such as safety.
Working conditions also remain poor in Bangladesh factories, and the wage for most workers amounts to just BDT3000 (US$38) per month - around one-third of a living wage in Bangladesh.
"To make the Bangladeshi ready-made garment sector sustainable and to guarantee the fundamental rights of workers, our approach is to address all these problems with the involvement of all stakeholders as a matter of urgency," Raina says.
"As several brands have indicated in a recent letter to the Bangladeshi prime minister, failure to address fire safety and its underlying causes threatens to further damage the sector, which otherwise would have considerable potential for growth and creation of new jobs."
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