Rana Plaza was described by everyone involved as a “wake-up call”, says CCC

Rana Plaza was described by everyone involved as a “wake-up call”, says CCC

In the face of the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory complex collapse, labour rights group Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) is outlining a set of key actions required from governments, brands and employers it says will drive "fundamental changes" in the aftermath of the disaster.

In a statement published today (21 April), the group calls for what it says are "clear, simple and achievable actions" which, if taken by brands and governments, would bring reality much closer to the "sustainable garment industry workers and consumers have been promised".

These actions include an extension and strengthening of the current Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety beyond its initial five-year validity, and calls for brands and retailers to improve transparency of their supply chains, allowing workers and consumers to more closely monitor working conditions.

Set up in the aftermath of the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory building in Dhaka in April 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people and injured over 2,000, the Accord works to ensure that proper inspections are carried out and that their findings are acted upon. CCC says that while it has led a "significant improvement" in the safety of factories in Bangladesh, progress toward a safer garment industry is being hampered by the failure to address the continued repression of workers' rights and the unjustified secrecy around where clothing brands produce their goods.

Rana Plaza was described by everyone involved as a "wake-up call", says CCC, and victories such as those of the Accord need to be "defended and developed, not eroded and reversed".

"Workers should not have to risk their lives or their jobs trying to smuggle labels and documents out of a building to get their voices heard," says Ben Vanpeperstraete, lobby and advocacy coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign international office. "Workers have a right to know who it is they work for, and consumers should know where the clothes they buy are made."

Meanwhile, CCC claims that attempting to make the Bangladesh garment industry safe in just five years was always an "ambitious proposition", adding it is no surprise then that the work of the Accord is "by no means done", adding with just one year to go, only around 50 factories have completed the required renovations.

The labour group proposes an extension, during which the Accord will improve clauses that were "insufficient to deliver the needed change", particularly around the financing of repairs, the speed of remediation and the arbitration process. Other clauses that were not originally included could also be added to address the impact of factory closures on workers and strengthen the protection of workers' rights, it says.

Other suggestions for the Accord include the organisation opening up its unique complaints mechanism to wider concerns around unfair labour practice in its listed suppliers. The buyer-employer-union dialogue required for solving disputes under the Accord mechanism could establish a useful example of how industrial relations could move forward and would fill the gap left by weak labour law, CCC says. Those brands yet to develop an understanding of good industrial relations would experience an effective working model of how to do this, which could then be replicated more widely, it claims.

However, CCC is quick to add that while the Accord complaint mechanism could provide a much needed short-term avenue for change, workers' rights can only be fully protected if Bangladesh's own labour law, union registration systems and access to redress are "significantly improved".

A spokeperson for the Accord told just-style it has taken note of the suggestions made by Clean Clothes Campaign.

"Discussions between brands and global union federations about an extension of the Accord and any modifications or expansions of the agreement are still ongoing," he said. "Should those discussions lead to a new agreement, the Accord secretariat stands ready to implement such agreement."

Meanwhile, CCC claims it is now time for the European Union to show the Bangladesh government that it is serious about its commitment to supporting freedom of association in the country, as per its signing of the 'Sustainability Compact' with the European Union and the ILO.

In addition, the statement highlights the need for greater action from the European Union – Bangladesh's largest export market – to use trade regulation to enforce union rights in Bangladesh and to pass regulation requiring brands and retailers to disclose their supply chains.

The group, along with the ITUC, IndustriAll and UNI Global, is calling upon the European Commission to begin an official trade investigation into the extent to which the government of Bangladesh is in breach of the international obligations that underpin its free access to the "vital" European market.