Blog: Leonie BarrieSpotlight on factory failings

Leonie Barrie | 20 December 2010

Questions are again being asked about the safety of the Bangladeshi clothing industry after at least 28 garment workers died and dozens more were injured last week after a fire broke out at the 'That's It Sportswear' factory near Dhaka. The facility, which belongs to the Ha-meem group, one of the biggest manufacturers in the country, was reportedly producing for major international buyers.

Campaigners have long been calling for improvements to Bangladeshi garment factories, where locked or inaccessible fire escapes and malfunctioning fire equipment often lead to fatal accidents. Earlier this year a further 21 workers were killed in a fire at knitwear maker Garib and Garib.

Another setback for the Bangladeshi industry - and one which also raises questions about the implications of cheap labour - came last weekend when three people were killed in riots linked to the roll-out of a pay rise for garment industry workers.

Other reports last week also drew attention to working conditions in apparel factories around the world. The first, from pressure groups Labour Behind the Label and War on Want, alleges that workers supplying fashion items to some of the leading retail chains in the UK live in a "climate of fear" characterised by poverty wages, violence and denial of basic rights. It singled out two factories in India where some workers earn less than half a "living wage."

And research carried out by the US Department of Labor points to garment, footwear and cotton producers as among the worst offenders when it comes to the use of forced and child labour. A closer look at the figures suggests the use of child labour in garment factories is nearly a thing of the past - but the incidence of forced labour should be of concern to retailers and importers. Officials also warn the data relates to the period immediately preceding the global economic crisis and could now be higher, especially in countries where the recovery has been weak.

A battle of a different kind is hotting up in the US where Deckers Outdoor Corporation is at loggerheads with rival footwear firm Emu Australia over Ugg branded sheepskin boots. Deckers wants to stop Emu from using its trademarks; but Emu argues Ugg is a generic word in Australia.

And in the US, off-price apparel retailer The TJX Companies Inc is shuttering its AJ Wright clothing chain, in a move that will lead to the loss of around 4,400 jobs as it focuses on its more profitable core brands. The retailer intends to convert 91 AJ Wright stores into its TJ Maxx, Marshalls or HomeGoods formats, which will allow it to retain around 3,400 workers. However, it will close the remaining 71 stores, AJ Wright's two distribution centres and its head office.


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