Efforts are underway to make Bangladesh factories safer

Efforts are underway to make Bangladesh factories safer

If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labour law and ensure garment workers can voice their concerns without fear of reprisal, a human rights organisation has said.

As the two year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster nears, garment workers in Bangladesh continue to face poor working conditions and anti-union tactics by employers, including assaults on union organisers, Human Rights Watch has said in a report published today (22 April).

Efforts are underway to make Bangladesh factories safer, but the government and Western retailers can and should do more to enforce international labour standards to protect workers’ rights, including their right to form unions and advocate for better conditions, the report suggests.

The 78-page report, ‘'Whoever Raises Their Head, Suffers the Most': Workers’ Rights in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories, is based on interviews with around 160 workers from 44 factories, most of them making garments for retail companies in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Workers report violations including physical assault, verbal abuse – sometimes of a sexual nature – forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leave, and failure to pay wages and bonuses on time or in full, the report notes. Despite recent labour law reforms, many workers who try to form unions to address such abuses face threats, intimidation, dismissal, and sometimes physical assault at the hands of factory management or hired third parties.

"If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labour law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal," said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director. "If Bangladesh does not hold factory managers accountable who attack workers and deny the right to form unions, the government will perpetuate practices that have cost the lives of thousands of workers."

Human Rights Watch has called on the Bangladesh government, factory owners, and Western retailers to ensure respect for workers’ rights and end the unlawful targeting of labour leaders by factory owners and supervisors.

Separately, a member of the European Parliament is urging fashion retailers and brands to mark the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster by making a donation to its compensation fund.

London Green MEP Jean Lambert said companies which had yet to give to the fund should do so "without further delay", plugging a US$6m gap in the funding needed to compensate over 5,000 people with eligible claims.

Lambert has also hosted an exhibition in the European Parliament this week showcasing images taken at the site, as well as follow-up pictures of survivors.

And she has chaired a conference bringing together the EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, with experts and campaigners on the global fashion industry.

Lambert, also chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with South Asia, has written to companies who have not yet paid.

"There is an opportunity for real change and we cannot let that wither away," she said.

"Investing in the quality of the industry is a real investment in the empowerment of women who make up the majority of the workforce.

"The second anniversary of a disaster is less visible but is crucially important if we want to see if things are really changing after that first rush of activity to put things right."

Click here to view the full Human Rights Watch report.