US: Retailers accused of hiding problems at suppliers
In the wake of recent factory fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan that have killed hundreds of workers, a US-based labour rights group has accused apparel buyers of hiding problems identified in audits.
The claims from the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) also suggest major US apparel companies ignore best fire safety practices.
In a 60-page report titled 'Deadly Secrets', ILRF says that since 1990 over 1000 workers have died in preventable factory fires and other unsafe workplace incidents in Bangladesh alone.
Over 700 of those deaths have occurred since 2005, it says, adding that 60% of Bangladesh's garment factories lack adequate fire-fighting tools and many factories do not have emergency exits.
"The report calls for a new openness in the garment industry, where companies share what they know about dangerous workplaces and workers can speak up and organize to protect themselves," says its author Bjorn Claeson.
"When workers report their safety concerns to management and visiting auditors, all too often they go unheard," adds Judy Gearhart, executive director of the ILRF.
"Worker safety is a two-part problem: half building infrastructure and half whether or not workers' voices are heard when they see safety risks or imminent danger. The programs of companies like Gap, JCPenney and Walmart ignore the key element of worker participation that is essential to saving lives."
Although Bangladeshi law and codes of conduct of global brands and retailers guarantee workers' right to organise and bargain collectively for better conditions, workers and worker advocates who demand their rights often become targets of repression, the report notes.
They may face arbitrary detentions, arrests and criminal proceedings on the basis of spurious charges, and they sometimes endure beatings or threats to their physical safety. In April, labour organiser Aminul Islam was tortured and assassinated.
ILRF is calling on apparel companies to help put a stop to garment factory fires in South Asia by sharing their knowledge about workplace hazards openly, paying sufficient prices to factories for necessary building repairs, and respecting the voices of workers.
Last month, 112 workers died in a garment factory fire in Bangladesh and two months prior 262 workers died in a garment factory fire in Pakistan. Both factories produced clothes for major western retailers.
Click here to view a copy of the 'Deadly Secrets' report.
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