ILRF Urges US Brands and Retailers to Join Bangladesh Factory Safety Agreement



International Labor Rights Forum

At least 170 workers died and hundreds were injured when apparel factories collapsed in the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh today. Families continue to search for survivors. This disaster comes just 5 months after the fire at Tazreen Fashions garment factory near Dhaka, which killed 112 workers on November 24, 2012. Walmart-labeled product was found in Tazreen and now one of the factories in the Rana complex, Ether-Tex, had listed Walmart-Canada as a buyer on their website. Walmart has yet to contribute to the worker compensation fund for Tazreen victims.

International Labor Rights Forum and other labor rights groups are calling for immediate action from international corporations and brands. “We need the brands to make significant changes in how they monitor their suppliers and to make a meaningful commitment to worker safety,” said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the ILRF. The Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, a binding agreement that has been endorsed by two global brands, would create rigorous inspections, transparency and oversight and ensure that workers and their organizations are an integral part of the solution.

Reports from Dhaka today show that a crack had developed a day earlier, but management appears to have ignored the warning sign and assured workers it was safe to work. Bank workers who worked in the same complex were told not to come in due to the risk. “With a transparent agreement in place, such as the safety agreement, it would not have been so easy to disregard the warning signs and send workers back in to their death,” said Gearhart.

This month, International Labor Rights Forum is touring the United States with Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, and Sumi Abedin, a young garment worker who survived the Tazreen fire after jumping from a third story window. The purpose of the “End Death Traps: Safe Workplaces for All” tour is to call on Walmart and all other Tazreen buyers to pay full and fair compensation to the victims of the fire and to call on Gap, JCP, Abercrombie, Kohl’s and other major retailers which have been implicated in past fires in Bangladesh to join the legally-binding fire safety agreement with worker representation.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of workers lost in this tragic event. It must be said, these tragedies can be prevented by multinational corporations like Walmart and Gap that operate in Bangladesh. Because of these companies' negligence and willful ignorance, garment workers are in danger every day because of the unsafe working conditions,” said Kalpona Akter. “As we learn more details, we will better understand the brands that were manufactured in these factories, but we already know that the largest retailers in the world hold tremendous power to transform conditions for garment workers - mostly young women - in Bangladesh. Today’s news is yet another reminder that multinational companies must immediately sign onto and implement the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, a legally-binding program with worker representation and fair pricing for mandatory building repairs and renovations. This safety agreement is the first step toward ensuring no more lives are lost.”

Akter and Abedin are in the United States this week calling for these changes and are available for interviews.