International Action Day for Workers Health & Safety in Bangladesh

published 01-04-2006 13:20, last modified 24-04-2013 09:51
Never Again! CCC joins its Bangladeshi partners in calling for an International Action Day for Workers Health & Safety in Bangladesh
 International Action Day for Workers Health & Safety in Bangladesh

Farsana, 20, was working at the KTS factory and suffered serious burns to her face and body during the February 23 fire there.

Q: Why an International Action Day on April 11, 2006?

A: April 11 is the one-year anniversary of the Spectrum-Shahriyar factory collapse in Bangladesh. On that date, hundreds of night-shift workers found themselves buried under the debris of an industrial unit. Eventually 64 persons died and 74 were injured. The Spectrum-Shahriyar tragedy is no mere incident. Unsafe workplaces are the norm rather then the exception in Bangladesh. Although labor rights NGOs and trade unions both on a national and international level have since called for large-scale improvements of conditions in the industry in Bangladesh, hardly any action regarding general safety in the garment industry has been undertaken.

The accumulation of recent incidents in Bangladesh causing more deaths and injuries proves the urgency of the outstanding demand for immediate and structural safety measures. The International Action Day is a day to push all factory owners in Bangladesh, all companies sourcing production in Bangladesh, industry associations and public authorities to take action on this demand. It is an action day in solidarity with the garment workers in Bangladesh who want a safe and healthy workplace.

Q: What happened at Spectrum on April 11, 2005?

A: Shortly before 1 a.m. on the morning of April 11th workers in the Spectrum-Sweater factory built on top of a flood-prone former swamp in Savar, 30 km northeast of Dhaka, found their workplace, suddenly crashing down upon them. Sixty-four people died, at least 74 were wounded, some handicapped for life, and hundreds were left jobless as a result of the collapse.

Before the collapse workers on several occasions had tried to report concerns regarding the safety of their building, including one worker who saw cracks in the factory wall five days prior to the collapse. But he was told to keep his mouth shut and work.

Spectrum was in violation not only of its construction permit, but also of many labour laws and code of conduct provisions prior to the collapse, such as violation of the minimum wage and of the legal right to one day a week off. Not only did local public authorities fail to properly monitor safety at Spectrum Sweater, but the companies sourcing at this factory-many of whom claim to have policies and procedures in place to monitor labor practices at their supply facilities-failed to detect and remediate serious problems at Spectrum.

Do not kill us

Q: What happened at the four factories where the recent incidents took place?

A: The Spectrum collapse was not the first, nor the last lethal accident in the Bangladesh garment industry. This year international attention was again focused on Bangladesh when within a short period of time four incidents at factories caused death and injury of many more garment workers:

  • On February 23, a fire caused by an electrical short circuit, killed an estimated 63 (including 12,13,14-year-old girls) and injured approximately 100 workers at KTS Textile Industries in Chittagong.

At the time of the fire, workers estimate that up to 1000 people were working in the building. Locked exits prevented workers from escaping from this facility; the main gate having been locked intentionally once the fire was detected to prevent theft from the factory and other exits generally being closed unless buyers visit to inspect the fire escape routes. At the time of the fire only the one gate usually reserved for the factory management, remained open. Sources report that there was no fire safety equipment at the factory, nor had there ever been a fire drill. The factory was reportedly in violation of numerous additional serious labor rights including: forced overtime, seven-day work weeks, payment of below subsistence level wages (seven to 14 cents per hour), denial of legal maternity rights, physical abuse of workers, suppression of workers rights to freedom of association and bargain collectively.

  • On February 25, the five-story Phoenix Building in the Tejgaon industrial area in Dhaka collapsed following unauthorized renovations to convert the upper stories of the building into a 500-bed private hospital. Result: 22 dead, 50 injured.

The building had housed Phoenix Garments, but production was being phased out and relocated. At the time of the collapse one line of the garment factory was reportedly still running. Many of the dead appear to have been construction workers involved in the renovation, as well as people who were on an adjoining road at the time of the collapse or who lived in the slum nearby. According to a local media report, the top two floors of the building were constructed without any approval from the planning authority.

  • On February 25, a transformer explosion at a factory owned by the Imam Group in Chittagong caused workers to rush for the exits: 57 workers were injured when they were unable to get out the narrow exists.

  • On March 6, a fire at Sayem Fashions in Gazipur caused three deaths and approximately 50 injured.

The fire triggered by an electrical short circuit at the building housing Sayem Fashions, SK Sweater and Radiance Sweater lead to a stampede when workers attempting to exit the premises were blocked by boxes. Workers' organizations report that other workers' rights violations at the facility included long working hours and seven-day work weeks.

Mozaffar

Q: How many garment workers already died at the start of this century in Bangladesh garment industry?

A: Here are some of the incidents the CCC is aware of:

  • 2000: 53 died at Choudhury Knitwear
  • 2001: 24 died at Maico Sweater
  • 2002: 12 dead at Globe Knitting
  • 2004: 9 died at the Misco Supermarket building
  • 2005: 23 died at Shan Knitting; 64 died at Spectrum
  • 2006: 63 died at KTS Textile Industries; 22 died at Phoenix; 3 died at Sayem Fashions

According to a recent study from the Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies, 130 workers in the garment industry died on the job in 2005 and 480 were wounded.

Garment worker Liton

Q: Which stakeholders are involved in the Bangladesh garment industry, and have or should play a role in following-up on these issues?

The buyers at the different factories:

· Spectrum, and the adjoining Shahriyar Fabric, produced orders for a wide range of European companies including Inditex (Spain), Carrefour, Solo Invest, CMT Windfield (France), Cotton Group (Belgium), KarstadtQuelle, Steilmann, New Yorker, Bluhmod (Germany), Scapino (Netherlands), and New Wave Group (Sweden). [For a complete list of buyers at Spectrum-Shahriyar please see here

  • KTS was producing for US companies Uni Hosiery, Mermaid International, ATT Enterprise, VIDA Enterprise, Leslee Scott Inc, Ambiance, Andrew Scott. The factory owner Wahidul Kabir reportedly lives in the United States, in California, where many of the factory's clients are based.

  • Phoenix Garments reportedly produced clothes for export to Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Finland and Denmark.

  • The Imam Group facility housed Moon Fashion Limited, Imam Fashion, Moon Textile, Leading Fashion and Bimon Inda garment factories. Clients reportedly include US retail giant Kmart and US-based Folsom Corporation.

  • The Sayem building was reportedly owned by Monir Hossain, also the owner of Radiance Sweater and Sayem Fashions. US brands that have reportedly sourced at the factory include Charles F. Berg and Wet Seal, European brands named in connection with production at this facility include Zara, NKD, Bershka Company, Aldi and X-mail; Canadian brands are La Senza and R.D. International and other still unidentified brands: Razzledazzle, Mango tree, Ada Gatti, Kreisy and Persival.

The industry organizations in Bangladesh and Europe:

In Bangladesh the BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) and the BKMEA (Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association) are the industry associations for factory owners.

The BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) is a European industry controlled code monitoring initiative that aims to harmonize auditing practices and share audit reports among its corporate members. Many of the buyers sourcing at Spectrum are members of the BSCI.

The Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives such as the Ethical Trading Initiative bring together various stakeholders, among which apparel companies, to address the issue of monitoring and verifying compliance with a code of conduct.

The trade unions and NGOs involved:

Local stakeholders representing the Bangladesh garment workers that the CCC has been in contact with include BIGUF (Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers' Union Federation), NGWF (National Garment Workers Federation), BTGWL (Bangladesh Textile and Garment Workers League), BGIWF (Bangladesh Independent Workers Federation), Karmojibi Nari (a women's rights organization), Awaj Foundation, the SGSF (Samilita Garments Workers Federation), the Sramik Nirapatta Forum (Workers' Safety Forum) consisting of some 17 NGOs and BNC (Bangladesh National Council), an umbrella organisation of ITGLWF member unions.

Incidin, a Bangladesh NGO is conducting the research on the situation of the injured workers and the families of the deceased.

On the international level, the ITGLWF (International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation) and the ICFTU (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions) support workers' demands for improvements in the Bangladesh garment industry.

Q: What actions have the workers and their organizations undertaken since Spectrum collapsed?

A: After having suffered such a tragedy, the worker's organizations, unions and NGOs immediately took collective action to inform the world about the collapse and construct a list of missing persons. With the help of the NGWF and the BGIWF, workers, of whom many at that time were hospitalised, were contacted for interviews to start describing the immense consequences of the disaster. Brands visiting the site of the factory have been informed by the various local stakeholders about the circumstances under which the workers used to work and which eventually led to the collapse of the factory.

Following the collapse of the factory on April 11th there have been several large-scale protests in Bangladesh to express outrage at the factory collapse in Savar and to draw attention to the need to follow-up on the numerous issues that require attention. Several union federations organized May Day rallies in Dhaka. Another protest organized by the NGWF involved a display of solidarity by making a human chain in which 52 Spectrum workers and the families of the victims took part. On May 6, 2005 a symbolic one hour hunger-strike was organised by garment workers in Dhaka and workers' organisations promised more demonstrations and protests if the government did not meet their demands. Karmojibi Nari organised a protest rally on April 30, 2005 with the participation of 2,000 garment workers in Dhaka, attended by a mother of two workers who died at the Spectrum factory, who spoke to protesters saying that they must ensure that the authorities take action in this tragedy and bring those responsible to justice.

In February 2006 a tour of Spectrum survivors to Europe was organized. Two workers, Nura Alam and Jahangir Alam, visited Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands to raise awareness of the outstanding demands of the workers and their families in the wake of this terrible tragedy. They visited various companies that sourced at Spectrum-Shahriyar and participated in various meetings with unions, work councils, NGOs and interested consumers.

Q: What did the buyers do to improve workplace safety?

A: If the buyers did anything on the level of structural safety measures, it has been related to the Spectrum collapse, after intensive pressure from national and international trade unions and NGOs.

  • During one of its visits Inditex disclosed its supplier list to the local trade unions. Inditex is actively exploring ways to involve trade unions in workplace assessments and remediation work, presumably including health and safety related measures. Although Karstadt/Quelle indicated in a meeting that they would also provide their supplier list to the local trade unions, they have failed to follow-up on this.

  • Several buyers have reported that they will step up their audit activities in this area and include building structural reviews. Depending on the quality of the auditing this can certainly be an improvement. Carrefour has requested audits where a systematic review of construction permits and legal authorisations will be conducted. Carrefour intends to ask its suppliers in Bangladesh to provide it with documentary evidence of construction permits for the buildings in which they operate.

The BSCI confirmed that neither they nor any of their members had ever conducted a social audit at the Spectrum-Shahriyar factory. No mention has been made thus far by the BSCI of the need to seriously review and wholly redesign their present compliance system. All of their code implementation programmes completely failed to identify the many violations, including safety risks, at Spectrum/Sharyiar. The results were deadly.

During their meetings after the Spectrum collapse, the BSCI members who participated in a mission to Bangladesh (June 2005) did discuss a sector-wide structural review of multi-story buildings, layout of machinery, enforcement of labor laws and penalties for violations, and a country-wide plan to implement and improve social standards. The group also put forth the idea of a tri-partite national agency (government, employers and trade unions) being set up to follow up on these issues. The brands involved in the mission apparently made clear that the placing of future orders with Bangladesh suppliers may depend on these measures. In addition, these recommendations were brought forward to the MFA Forum, a loose association of local and international NGOs and trade unions, government, the UNDP, employers and buyers representing orders that account for 90% of production taking place in Bangladesh.

The MFA Forum has conducted meetings in Bangladesh, during which the Spectrum collapse and the issue of long-term structural measures to ensure compliance with labour standards have been discussed. The MFA Forum has also been engaging directly with key stakeholders in Bangladesh including trade unions, NGOs, the BGMEA, and the government. However any concrete progress on addressing the structural health and safety problems in Bangladesh has not happened.

Q: What did Spectrum-Shahriyar buyers do to compensate Spectrum workers and the families of the deceased?

A: Some companies (Inditex, Carrefour) released money for direct hospitalisation costs and emergency relief measures of injured workers. After a visit to the site of the tragedy in June 2005, Inditex decided to draft a trust fund proposal together with the ITGLWF (International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation) to compensate families and injured workers for lost income following the collapse, now and in the future. Inditex and ITGLWF called upon all other companies to join this initiative.

Only the French Solo Invest and the Swedish New Wave Group unconditionally committed themselves to the trust fund proposal. Carrefour (Belgium/France) and KarstadtQuelle (Germany), although initially stating their willingness to join a compensation program, are still not unconditionally showing their commitment to the process. Scapino (Netherlands) is another company still reluctant to join. The same holds true for Cotton Group (Belgium). CMT Winfield (France), New Yorker, Bluhmod and Steilman (Germany) did not respond or responded negatively to communication from the initiators of the trust fund proposal or the CCC.

Q: What has the government done to improve health and safety in the Bangladesh garment sector?

A: Following the death of 64 workers in the collapse of the Spectrum-Shahriyar factory last year, the government created a Social Compliance Forum for Ready Made Garments headed by the commerce minister. This forum has met a number of times and established two task forces (one on safety and one on labor welfare). Activity by the task forces in the ten months since the Spectrum collapse has been limited to identifying a long list of improvement needed - most already required by law - together with an indication of whether these are needed in the short, medium, or longer term.

Following the recent accidents the activities of the safety task force have increased, and a three-level monitoring system (at factory level, at task force level and at the supervising Social Compliance Forum level) has been put in place. Concretely this means that workers and other stakeholders can drop complaints about safety at the National Forum secretariat (although it remains unclear how workers will be informed about this possibility) and that the BGMEA will proceed to unannounced factory inspections, concentrating on checking that (emergency) exits at the facilities are accessible and unlocked (for example gates open and stairs free from boxes).

However, the BGMEA itself recently told a local daily newspaper that it is not capable of monitoring its 4,210 member factories to ensure factory compliance issues. 18 BGMEA inspectors are visiting 3 factories per day. Up to March 19, 2006 the BGMEA had inspected only 169 factories and conducted 133 fire drills as part of its ongoing drive to ensure safety measures (not labour standards). Recently 21 temporary workers were hired to help the BGMEA with its "crash" safety program.

The labor welfare task force is apparently focussing on child labor. However the scope of these activities is unclear. Some of the dead at KTS were children.

Q: What are CCC's concerns regarding the recent activities of the buyers, BGMEA and the Bangladesh government on safety in the Bangladesh garment industry?

Although some efforts have been made, it is very clear that the overall situation of the Spectrum workers and for garment workers in general had hardly improved. Apart from the necessary medical treatment and some ad hoc relief measures, the structural hardship of the Spectrum victims and their families has not improved yet. A lot of pronouncements and promises by individual brands and for example the government seems to be only superficial and lack concrete follow-up. The CCC is specifically concerned about the following:

  • The safety checks are planned on an ad hoc basis, not taking into account the need for training, setting up worker committees and the implementation of safe and accessible complaint procedures. Long-term commitment to follow-up on a sector-wide basis is lacking.

  • There are no provisions for workers who find themselves jobless as a result to the closures of factories at risk.

  • Neither the factory owners nor most of the sourcing brands and retailers in Bangladesh properly recognize and act upon their responsibilities, pointing at each other to act and avoiding to address their own role. Also the Government does not take up a central role and does not seem sincerely committed to the advancement of the health and safety in the garment industry.

  • Factory owners seem to have an easy escape route open to them, by means of subcontracting their orders to non-certified facilities and therefore no longer being under the BGMEA's supervision.

Q: What are the demands being put forth on the International Action Day for Workers' Health and Safety?

The general safety demand

Following the Spectrum-Shahriyar factory collapse Bangladesh unions and labor rights NGOs called for structural measures to be taken to prevent similar incidents in the future. This demand is still valid, if anything this demand is even more pressing in the face of the recent tragedies.

The demanded structural measures include a structural review of multi-story buildings and facilities inspection mechanisms. Workers' access to safe channels by which they can communicate their concerns on issues such as health and safety to their employers should be assured.

To guarantee the effective implementation of these structural safety measures, an independent international oversight committee/program should be formed, charged with examining occupational health and safety regulations and their implementation (including emergency regulations). This committee should be given a multi-year assignment in order to ensure that follow-up takes place on any recommendations that will be made.

Of course the enforcements of already existing laws regarding safety issues in Bangladesh should most urgently be enforced.

The other demands

Not surprisingly, there is a strong similarity between the Spectrum case and the recent accidents. In all cases the need for full, independent and transparent investigation is imperative. Compensation and relief measures for the injured workers and families of the deceased should be established as quickly as possible. And of course the demands raised in the Spectrum case are still valid and urgent. [See below for the specific demands addressed to the Spectrum buyers]

Q: To whom are the demands addressed?

A: The Bangladesh factory owners (many of whom are represented in the BGMEA), the Bangladesh government and the brands and retailers sourcing at Bangladesh factories are all to be held responsible for the actual situation of the facilities in the Bangladesh garment industry.

The International Action Day addresses all these target groups to make sure that workers can safely work in the Bangladesh garment industry.

Q: What are the demands towards the BGMEA and the Bangladesh government?

A: The demands towards the BGMEA and the Bangladesh government are similar, both relating to the necessary structural safety measures, the investigation of all accidents and the compensation of the workers involved. Regarding the safety measures, the government and BGMEA should:

  • make public a detailed report of fires/structural accidents (such as building collapse) in the garment sector since 1990
  • impose a penalty of 100,000 taka for those factories that continue to lock exits during working hours
  • inspect all garment and textile factories for compliance with minimum standards related to structural/building regulations, health, and safety. A black list should be declared for those factories that do not sufficiently implement these standards. Membership of the BGMEA and licenses provided by the government should be immediately cancelled for factories appearing on this black list. Health, safety and security, right to organize and bargain collectively, appointment letter and minimum wage for the garment workers in the entire sector should be ensured.

Regarding the compensation and investigation of recent incidents, the government and BGMEA should:

  • provide minimum compensation of 500,000 taka each for families of the workers who died and free medical treatment and minimum compensation of 50,000 taka for each injured worker. However they should recognize that these compensation demands are an initial minimum request; it is imperative that a credible mechanism is put in place to provide for a sufficient lifetime pension for the wounded and families of dead.

  • see that any workers whose workplaces are closed due to these tragedies are paid a full salary for the duration that their workplaces are closed. [Note: adequate provisions, in consultation with local workers' rights organizations, must be made for any workers who are put out of work in the event of factory closures due to failure to meet health and safety standards]

  • full, impartial, and transparent investigation and follow-up into the causes of these four incidents; including bringing those responsible for these tragedies, such as factory owners, to justice (arrest and trial)

Q: What are the demands towards the brands and retailers sourcing at Bangladesh factories?

A: Brands and retailers sourcing at Bangladesh factories should take immediate steps to ensure that all of their supply facilities in Bangladesh meet a series of minimum standards related to structural/building regulations and health and safety, including:

  • The owner has received all necessary building permits, and the building is structurally sound and has not been constructed in a high-risk area;

  • The plant and machinery are safe, emergency exits are unlocked and unobstructed, and there is adequate access to exit routes so that emergency equipment can be brought quickly to the site; and

  • Workers receive adequate health and safety training and have secure channels to raise concerns on health and safety issues with management and the government.

At a more general level, all companies sourcing from Bangladesh should work directly with trade unions and labour NGOs on the ground to improve the implementation of their codes of conduct and the monitoring of their supply chain. Ensuring workers right to freely organize and bargain collectively is key to sustainable improvements at the workplace, and this should be a priority. Companies should enable their suppliers to meet the standards outlined in their codes; this means critically reviewing their purchasing practices (pricing, delivery schedules) and making a long-term commitment to their suppliers. Companies should join a credible multi-stakeholder initiative to verify implementation of their code of conduct and work with other stakeholders, including the government, to ensure that key issues are taken up at the sectoral level. These include raising the minimum wage to a living wage, improving respect for freedom of association, and contacting local authorities and industry leaders regarding the above-mentioned comprehensive health and safety review.

Q: Are there specific demands of the brands that sourced at Spectrum-Shahriyar before the collapse one year ago?

A: As you can read in the overview report of the Spectrum case [see the extended report on Spectrum: One Year After the Collapse [gaikokujin-jp.info], some measures were taken by some brands, but this is still far from satisfactory. Now that a proposal for a trust fund to compensate injured workers and families of deceased workers has been formulated and sent around to the companies, it is crucial that the brands and retailers join this initiative, commit to the trust fund and pledge sufficient funds to ensure the total sum proposed. A roundtable meeting is proposed to discuss further details and implementation of this fund. All the brands that were sourcing at Spectrum-Shahriyar are called upon to join this meeting.

Q: Are there specific demands of the brands that sourced at KTS, Phoenix, Imam group, Sayem Fasions?

A: We call upon the all upon the brands that sourced at KTS, Phoenix, Imam group, Sayem Fasions to immediately follow-up on the demands being put forth by local trade unions and labor rights advocates to:

  • provide minimum compensation of 500,000 taka each for families of the workers who died and free medical treatment and minimum compensation of 50,000 taka for each injured worker. However you will recognize that these compensation demands are an initial minimum request; it is imperative that a credible mechanism is put in place to provide for a sufficient lifetime pension for the wounded and families of dead.

  • see that any workers whose workplaces are closed due to these tragedies are paid a full salary for the duration that their workplaces are closed. [Note: adequate provisions, in consultation with local workers' rights organizations, must be made for any workers who are put out of work in the event of factory closures due to failure to meet health and safety standards]

  • push for full, impartial, and transparent investigation and follow-up into the causes of these four incidents with the Bangladesh government; including bringing those responsible for these tragedies, such as factory owners, to justice (arrest and trial)

  • call for penalties for those factories that continue to lock exits during working hours

  • inspect all garment and textile factories for compliance with minimum standards related to structural/building regulations, health, and safety. Ensure the health, safety and security, right to organize and bargain collectively, appointment letter and minimum wage for the garment workers in the entire sector.

Q: What will local groups in Bangladesh do on April 11?

A: Trade unions in Bangladesh, including the Bangladesh National Council of Textile, Clothing and Leather Workers' Unions (BNC) and the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF), Sammilita Garments Workers Federation (SGWF) and NGOs, including the Awaj Foundation and member organizations of the Sramik Nirapatta Forum (Workers' Safety Forum), have planned a variety of public actions, including marches, press conferences, creating human chains, and candle lightning ceremonies.The ICFTU will support the International Action Day for Workers Health and Safety in Bangladesh by sending out a press release.

Q: What will European chapters of CCC do this day?

A: In France a national campaign will be launched on April 11 to send letters to the Bangladesh authorities (BGMEA and government) to push for structural safety measures. 10,000 concerned consumers are going to be reached with this campaign. Also the French parliament will be addressed to add their influence on a governmental level. National and local press releases on April 11 will ask for nationwide attention to the lack of safety in the Bangladesh garment industry today.

Belgium will see special fire brigades in action, this time not to extinguish Belgian fires, but to highlight the emergency of safety measures in Bangladesh in front of the Bangladesh Embassy. The Belgian press will feature articles about the safety issues in the Bangladeshi garment industry and April 11.

In the Netherlands, consumers in one of the biggest shopping streets in Amsterdam will be notified about the safety conditions in Bangladesh, and asked to enter shops to review the brands produced in Bangladesh. A national review of the policies of brands regarding health and safety issues will be published.

Labour behind the Label, the CCC in the UK, will publicly release the responses they have received from major UK brands and retailers on the question of health and safety at their Bangladesh suppliers.

What you can do

  • Organize an action at your Bangladesh embassy to pressure the Bangladesh government into taking action.

  • Organize an action at the headquarters, local representative or one of the shops of the retailers or brands sourcing in Bangladesh to pressure for safety measures, in their own supply chain as well as via a comprehensive programme.

  • Organize an action at the headquarters, local representative or one of the shops of the companies that sourced at Spectrum-Shahriyar to pressure for immediate commitment to the trust fund process.

See also
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