A recently completed inspection found more than 80,000 safety violations in Bangladeshi garment factories – where 85 percent of all workers are women.
The inspections were made as part of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which covers more than 1,500 factories, is a legal agreement between 180 garment companies and 12 Bangladeshi trade unions and was formed after April 2013, when more than 1,100 workers died, and thousands more injured, in a factory building collapse in Rana Plaza.
Of the inspected factories, 17 had structural integrity below an acceptable level and 110 factories were not currently up to acceptable safety levels for workers to work inside. The chief safety inspector of the Accord said the number of safety violations “was to be expected.”
Around four million people work in clothing factories in Bangladesh, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, and most of them are women. Bangladesh’s export income, according to the American Journal of Sociological Research, depends on these workers, as 75 percent of that income comes from the ready-made garments industry. A woman who works in a garment factory often provides for her whole family – it therefore elevates her social status and gives her a choice outside of working as a farm hand or as a domestic servant.
“I wish I had a garments job instead of laboring in the fields, look at my hands,” Alisha Begum told NBC News. Begum was looking for the body of her sister, Rehana, after the 2013 factory collapse. “I can’t read or write which why I have to work out in the sun. Without basic reading, you can’t get a job in this type of factory.”
According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, a campaign that works to improve working conditions and to support empowerment for workers in the garment industry, $40 million is needed for families of victims. The Campaign says several companies that had links to the collapsed factory building have yet to pay anything to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund. Joe Fresh acted first to compensate families of the victims, but there are still many brands and retailers who have not done anything publicly to compensate families.
The Campaign lists J.C. Penny as one of the retailers that has yet to pay. A statement issued by J.C. Penny, which has an annual revenue of about $11.9 billion, claims it does not need to pay compensation as it “had no insight into the development and sourcing of Joe Fresh apparel produced in Rana Plaza last year.” Companies such as Gap, H&M Conscious Foundation and Debenhams have made contributions even though they did not technically source their clothing from a factory in Rana Plaza. Primark, which did have a supplier in the collapsed factory, has donated around $2 million and promises $10 million more in long-term compensation.
After the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the Bangladeshi government promised to improve worker conditions; so far it has raised the minimum wage by 77 percent, to $66 a month, which is still one of the lowest wages for a garment-factory worker in the world. Workers have asked for $102 a month, but were met with police violence when they protested. Despite the Bangladeshi government giving workers a greater ability to unionize, some workers who have tried to form unions have been met with violence and bribery.
The US government has also weighed in on conditions in Bangladeshi factories. In June 2013, the US suspended trade privileges with Bangladesh and provided an Action Plan that would be the basis for reconsidering its decision. After reviewing progress on the Action Plan, the US Trade Representative in July noted continuing concern for worker safety, the need for stronger labor law reforms, and violence against labor organizers.
US trade privileges continue to be suspended, yet an investigation by Jason Motlagh and Susie Taylor for Ms. Magazine found that the US government has continued to purchase millions of dollars worth of Bangladeshi-made apparel for military retail stores (exchanges) – without monitoring their supply chains. Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced legislation in 2013 to require military exchanges to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, but so far, nothing requires the exchanges to do so or to contribute to the cost of the structural repair or renovation of the dangerous factories from which they receive their goods.
Media Resources: Bloomberg Businessweek 10/16/2014; ThinkProgress 10/14/2014, 11/20/2013; Reuters 10/14/2014, 3/17/2014; International Labor Rights Forum 7/3/14; Ms. Magazine Summer 2014; Forbes 4/26/2014; Feminist Newswire 9/24/2013, 5/15/13; US Trade Representative 7/14, 7/19/13; NBC News 5/23/2013; Clean Clothes Campaign; Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh