Spanish retail giant Inditex is sending a joint mission to Bangladesh next week with the IndustriALL global trade union federation following the fire at an unauthorised subcontractor where seven workers died.

The visit also coincides with an International Labor Organization (ILO) conference in Dhaka on 3-4 February on fundamental principles and rights at work, which is seen as a starting point for a plan of action for the Bangladesh garment industry.

Garments for Inditex's Bershka and Lefties brands - as well as those for other European retailers - were found at the Smart Export Garment factory last weekend.
The fire at this factory came just two months after 112 people lost their lives at Tazreen Fashion in Bangladesh.

"Soon after the tragedy at Smart Garments, Inditex and IndustriALL exchanged information they received from their partners and affiliates in Bangladesh, and started working on a remediation action plan," according to a statement from the trade union group.

"A joint mission will arrive in Dhaka on Tuesday 5 February to examine the situation and discuss necessary measures to minimise the effects of the incident to the victims."

Inditex has already suspended two suppliers - Wonnever and Centex Textile & Apparels Limited - after they appeared to have illegally subcontracted orders to Smart Garments.

Inditex SA, the world's second largest clothing retailer and parent of the Zara fast fashion brand, signed a "ground-breaking global framework agreement" with the ITGLWF, IndustriALL's predecessor organisation, back in 2007.

The agreement was the first of its kind to cover a retail supply chain and not only addresses international labour standards but also bans subcontracting without prior written consent.

"As in the Tazreen Fashion case, poor safety conditions resulted in a tragedy at Smart Fashion," said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL.
The global union added that: "The incident demonstrates the difficulties major companies have in controlling their global supply chains."

Calls are now being made for "urgent and serious action" to prevent further tragedies.

An International Labor Organization (ILO) conference in Dhaka on 3-4 February on fundamental principles and rights at work is seen as a starting point for a plan of action for the Bangladesh garment industry.

"We invite all major international brands, national employers and the government of Bangladesh to start an urgent discussion with us on a concrete plan of action," Raina said.

"It must include strict health and safety regulations, efficient inspection and union participation in workplace cooperation, ensuring freedom of association in line with internationally recognized ILO labour standards, and a programme to raise minimum wages to at least living wage levels in the country."

Over 4,500 factories operate in the garment sector of Bangladesh. Working conditions remain poor and the wage for most workers amounts to BDT3000 (US$38) per month - around one-third of a living wage in Bangladesh.

Very few factories are unionised, despite the effort of trade unions to get registration enabling them to conduct collective bargaining with employers on issues such as safety.

In the Dhaka region, out of 26 unions fulfilling the condition of majority representation at the enterprises only one has so far received official registration enabling them to bargain collectively.