• Mata Traders
  • 11 Jul, 2016

Retailers and Factories Fail to Live Up to Promises to Improve Worker Conditions

Three years after the infamous Rana Plaza factory collapse killed over 1,100 garment factory workers in Bangladesh, reports show there are many significant safety hazards that remain in the country’s garment factories, as demonstrated by the recent Bangladesh factory fire this past February. Thousands of potentially life-saving improvements have passed their deadlines and reports estimate that in 2015 there were still 78,842 workers working in H&M supplier factories without adequate fire exits.

Photo Credit: Rijans

Following the media attention of the Rana Plaza collapse and the public outrage over the working conditions for millions of Bangladeshi garment workers, retailers made promises to take measures that would protect these workers.

H&M, the largest purchaser of clothing from Bangladesh, along with over 200 other brands, NGO witnesses, and Bangladeshi and international unions signed the independent, legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The Accord publishes inspection reports and Corrective Action Plans for each factory and terminates factories that don’t take necessary safety measures. 

Photo Credit: Solidarity Center

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh dispatched engineers to evaluate the structural, electrical and fire safety of over 1,600 Bangladesh factories. In their first rounds of evaluation, they found 108,538 safety issues, and categorized every inspected factory as “high risk” with issues requiring “extensive repairs”.

Yet, the Clean Clothes Campaign (one of the Accord’s signatories) reports that “despite the scale and urgency of the work required to fix these safety defects, there appears to have been a very limited effort on behalf of the factories and the brands they supply to actually ensure that renovations have been carried out.”  

As of April 2016, 1556 of the 1660 factories part of the Accord were “behind schedule” with renovations or had no plan in place at all.  Three years after the deadly factory collapse, a mere 4% of the factories are on track or have completed the required renovations. Many research and worker advocacy groups are concerned about the speed of these remediation efforts. 

So, what’s holding up the process?

Most of the original obstacles that the factories faced, such as locating qualified engineering experts and gaining access to the necessary safety equipment (like fire doors), have been resolved.  The Clean Clothes Campaign reports that the delays that still remain can be attributed to the lack of efforts from factory owners and the fashion companies’ weak commitments to monitoring and financing the safety improvements.

Bob Jeffcott from the Maquila Solidarity Network (a signatory of the Accord) reports that “H&M now knows all the renovations needed to finally make its factories safe so that workers will no longer risk their lives” but “despite this knowledge, they continue to drag their feet to carry out these critical renovations.”

A major roadblock in the reform process has been funding. While 1311 factories have a financial planin place, only 37 factories reported receiving any financial support from a brand or retailer. Many labor groups assert that the safety improvements could be resolved in a much more timely manner if companies dedicated more resources and efforts towards improving conditions.  

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance reports that while H&M has made PR efforts lauding their own sustainability and transparency efforts, “the gesture to date has proved largely symbolic.” Liana Foxvog from the International Labor Rights Forum also expressed concerns over H&M’s transparency, saying that the company “still fails to inform us on what the company itself is doing to speed up the renovations.

With companies and factories slow to act on improving vital work safety efforts, it’s becoming increasingly important for all of us to take on our responsibility as consumers to get involved and buy products that we know were ethically sourced. 

Learn more about fair trade and Mata Traders’ mission and the artisans behind our clothing.

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