The meeting was prompted by two recent fires at factories in Dhaka

The meeting was prompted by two recent fires at factories in Dhaka

The Industriall global trade union federation has described a meeting between stakeholders in the Bangladesh ready-made garment industry on Friday (22 February) as "a step forward" after they agreed to work together on workers' rights, minimum wages and fire safety.

The meeting was prompted by two recent fires at the Tazreen Fashion and Smart Fashion factories in Dhaka, which resulted in the death of at least 120 garment workers.

Highlighting the need for a "concrete plan of action," Industriall said urgent progress was needed on the key issues in order to "secure a sustainable future for the garment industry in Bangladesh."

Representatives from major brands and buyers such as H&M, PVH and Tchibo, the Minister of Industry and the Secretary of Labour, trade unions, employers' association the Bangladesh Garment Manufactures & Exporters Association (BGMEA), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and non-governmental organisations all took part in Friday's talks.

They agreed that improvements on workers' rights, minimum wages and fire safety are needed in the face of increasing pressure from European and North American consumers.

Among progress so far, it was revealed that the Bangladesh Ministry of Labour is in the process of finalising a revision of the Labour Act 2006, and that eight new local trade unions have been registered - although further efforts to organise workers and facilitate the registration procedure are still required.

Industriall, which brings together major trade unions worldwide representing workers in the garment and textile industries, also said that the minimum monthly wage of BDT3,000 (US$38) is below a living wage.

It added that "an urgent raise is needed, followed by annual revisions," along the lines of moves by neighbouring countries such as Indonesia ($200), China ($200) and Thailand ($300).

It also emphasised that "co-operation and input of all stakeholders is needed to improve fire safety."

A tripartite statement signed in Bangladesh in January by representatives from the government, employers' associations and worker organisations is set to finalise its national action plan at the end of February.

Buyers and unions have emphasised the need to agree on one comprehensive programme, which will bring together various initiatives including the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement (BFBSA), which Industriall "continues to promote."

"This meeting with all the stakeholders was a step forward," said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of Industriall. "There is now a common understanding that joint efforts by the government, employers, unions and brands are required."

He added: "IndustriALL supports Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government in the vision to expand the garment industry and create millions of new decent jobs, noting that the government is already working on "problem areas" where urgent action is needed to improve the image of the industry.

Speaking to just-style, Raina explained that major brands and buyers will meet at Industriall's global head office in Geneva on 11 March to discuss their input.

"Industriall is promoting a safety initiative which includes input from all stakeholders in the form of inspections, training and investment to upgrade hazardous installations."

Separately last week, the union's regional office in Bangladesh helped broker a compensation payment by retailers Inditex and New Look to the families of victims of the Smart Export Garment factory fire, where seven workers lost their lives at the end of January.