by Debbie Hunt
The Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh collapsed on 24 April 2013, killing over 1100 people and was one of the worst industrial accidents seen in modern times. The blatant disregard for human life and safety procedures in the pursuit of growing profits was sickening to many Australian consumers particularly when they discovered some of the clothes being made in these factories would end up in numerous popular clothing stores in Australia.
This drove a large number of Australians to make a stand and take action to ensure that Bangladeshi factories were safe for staff, that working conditions improved and that reasonable wages were being paid by the companies using these factories to manufacture their clothing. This level of consumer pressure led to the creation of the Bangladeshi Fire and Safety Accord.
The Accord is an independent agreement designed to make all garment factories in Bangladesh safe workplaces. It includes mandatory independent safety inspections at factories and public reporting of the results of these inspections. Where safety issues are identified, retailers commit to ensuring that repairs are carried out, that sufficient funds are made available to do so, and that workers at these factories continue to be paid a salary while repairs are undertaken.
Due to the dependence of Bangladesh economy on the garment industry (Garment Exports account for 80% of all Bangladeshi export earnings) the Accord is a better approach for consumers to take than boycotting products as this has the potential to take business, jobs and money away from Bangladesh and the 4 million people who work in the factories.
It is also sensible for consumers in rich countries to demand better pay and conditions in these factories as it is considerably safer for them to do so than it is for the workers in Bangladesh. In September of this year, when 20 000 garment workers went out on strike and more than 6000 protested against wages and conditions in the factories, the Bangladeshi police force responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. What’s more, consumer pressure works, the outpouring of public support for the Bangladeshi Fire and Safety Accord to be taken up by retail chains around the globe has been tremendous and companies are listening,
The Accord has now been signed by over 100 apparel corporations from 19 countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia; two global trade unions, IndustriALL and UNI; and numerous Bangladeshi unions. Clean Clothes Campaign, Workers’ Rights Consortium, International Labor Rights Forum and Maquila Solidarity Network are NGO witnesses to the Accord. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) acts as the independent chair.
Companies in Australia that have agreed to sign up to the legally binding agreement include, K Mart, Target, Rivers and Big W. In Australia one of the main Non-Government Organisations working on the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord is Oxfam Australia. Oxfam is a non religious, non political international development agency that works with communities all over the globe to bring an end to injustice and poverty.
Through the Oxfam website nearly 4000 Australians have taken the online action calling on companies to sign on to the Accord and to pay living wages to workers. In line with a popular Christmas carol, Oxfam has also been “making a list and checking twice” – they are finding out this Christmas “who has been naughty and nice….” And have been sharing this initiative through social media outlets to encourage more people to take action to convince those companies who have yet to sign onto the Accord to do so.