Governments from European countries have used a session at the OECD Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct to call on garment companies who sourced from the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh to fund compensation to victims of the building's collapse one year ago.

The message came in a joint statement from the governments of France, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Denmark, Italy, and Spain, made by Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, at an international Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) meeting in Paris last week.

She said: "We feel it's the joint responsibility of companies sourcing from Rana Plaza and the Bangladeshi government and employers to donate the required budget to [the] Rana plaza donors trust fund. We recommend that companies that sourced in Rana Plaza contribute to [the] established trust fund...immediately and we invite all companies irrespective of whether they have any sourcing links to Rana Plaza to also contribute," she told the OECD Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct.

Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign, welcomed the announcement. "We're very pleased with the Dutch government followed by the other six today to take a leadership role and start engaging the brands and call on them to deal with this urgent problem," noting there is a US$23m shortfall in compensation from promises under the International Labour Organization's Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund.

Ploumen also called on companies to adhere to OECD 'guidelines for multinational enterprises,' said she backed the organisation's work in boosting textiles and apparel sector working practices, and urged continued efforts to improve working conditions in Bangladesh's textile sector.

"It's essential in Bangladesh that the results of the factory inspections are taken seriously, even if that means some factories have to be closed temporarily. And of course workers should not lose their income," she added.

Ploumen also noted that one area needing continued work is that of Bangladesh workers' freedom of association, allowing them to join unions that have developed in the industry, and ensuring the protection of trade union activists.

Meanwhile, Gilbert Houngbo, the International Labour Organization (ILO) deputy director-general for field operations and partnerships, noted Bangladesh is in a transitional period, and working conditions have improved. He warned that one concern is how to continue these improvements and factory repairs while also ensuring the industry does not lose orders.

Reaz Bin Mahmood, vice president of finance at the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BGMEA), stressed the importance of the country's apparel industry for employment, industrialisation, poverty elevation, and empowering less privileged women (as women account for about 3.2m of the 4m workers employed in the industry).

The Rana Plaza collapse has been "a wakeup call encouraging us to take preventative measures," he noted. However, local manufacturers are struggling to reach higher working standards when the prices are low, he warned.

"We understand that we have great responsibilities towards our workers but our ability to offer a decent living and safe working condition is constrained by the prices we get. The brands and the buyers insist on the highest standards while offering the lowest prices," he said.

Meanwhile, the global clothing industry had not focused enough on resolving safety issues in the workplace, said Matthijs Crietee, deputy secretary general of the International Apparel Federation (IAF).

"After Rana Plaza, it was evident that the industry was having problems especially with the audit and certification habits ....and also [placed] too much emphasis on audits rather than fixing situations," he explained.