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Business

US firms under fire amid Bangladesh textile reform

©

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-16

As Bangladesh tries to improve its image as a textile manufacturing hub, US and Canadian companies have been criticised for signing an initiative that seeks to keep “business as usual”, according to one NGO.

US and Canadian companies with factories in Bangladesh were criticised Tuesday for not signing up to an agreement designed to improve workforce safety following deadly Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1,129 people in April.

The day after Bangladesh passed a law that will strengthen employees’ rights and improve workplace safety, Nayla Ajaltouni, France spokeswoman for the international Clean Clothes Campaign, told FRANCE 24 that too many western clothes manufacturers, including GAP and Walmart, wanted “business as usual”.

The Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh, revealed last week, is a comprehensive and independent agreement designed to make all garment factories in Bangladesh safe workplaces.

The agreement was designed by Bangladeshi and international unions, together with other labour groups, making it unique in being supported by all key labour rights stakeholders.

It was signed by more than 65 mostly European international brands and retailers, who agreed to a five-year commitment to invest in safer factories.

“But Walmart, Gap and the corporations that have chosen to join them, are unwilling to commit to the accord,” said Ajaltouni. “Instead, they have developed The Safer Factory Initiative.”

Ajaltouni said the latter initiative was less legally-binding and designed “to keep business as usual”.

“Their scheme preserves the very model that has failed workers for years and failed to prevent nearly two thousand deaths,” she said.

Meanwhile, the majority of the families of the deceased Rana Plaza workers have not received any financial support whatsoever, according to the CCC.

The estimated long term compensation for Rana Plaza victims will be more than 54 million Euros (71 million USD).

‘Historic’ legislation

Under a new Bangladeshi law approved on Monday, the millions of labourers in the country are "ensured full trade union rights", including those in factories making clothes for Western retailers

Bangladesh, the world's second largest garment exporter, has been under intense international pressure to overhaul labour laws in the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy, one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

The United States last month cancelled a trade privilege for Bangladesh, alleging that it has not done enough to ensure workplace safety.

The new law says structural changes to factories will be banned without permission from government inspectors, amid concerns that new floors are often added to buildings, which cannot structurally support the extra weight.

Bangladesh world’s second-biggest textiles hub

The nine-storey Rana Plaza building, where workers made clothes for Benetton, Primark, Walmart and other international brands, collapsed on April 24 outside the capital Dhaka, trapping thousands.

Cracks had appeared in the building one day before it caved in, and three floors had been added over the years to the original structure, a move which investigators partly blamed for the tragedy.

Padlocking factory exit gates – a common practice at plants – is banned under the new law, following recent fires that killed workers unable to flee.

Bangladesh initially expressed outrage at US President Barack Obama's decision last month to cut duty-free access for some of its products.

But the country, desperate to persuade Western retailers to stay put, swiftly drew up legislative reforms.

Bangladesh is the world's second largest garment producer after China. The textile industry is the mainstay of the economy, accounting for 80 percent of the country's $25 billion annual exports.

Date created : 2013-07-16

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