Photo by David Goldman for the Associated Press
Members of the British Parliament have raised the possibility of an ethical “Kitemark” for garments as a way to ensure that the recent factory disasters in Bangladesh never happen again. In a report released Monday, the all-party parliamentary group for Bangladesh expressed concerns about future tragedies in the vein of the Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed 1,129 people in April, or the fire at Tazreen Fashions, where 100 workers lost their lives. The group also called for regulation of ethical audits, which monitor safety conditions in factories for brands and retailers, as well as the mandatory disclosure of any problems to workers’ representatives.
PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: Bangladesh Garment Workers Organize Biggest Wage-Hike Protest
Photo by Andrew Biraj for Reuters
The report, which followed a lengthy investigation including a trip to Bangladesh, concludes that poor planning and building controls have resulted in substandard construction, with 90 percent of the country’s buildings failing to meet any credible codes.
The MPs made their recommendations just as thousands of Bangladeshi workers took to the streets to demand a higher minimum wage.
“Consequently, there is high chance of a repeat of the tragic events of Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions’ fire,” the report reads. “These risks compromise the long-term investments of brands and limit their ability to improve working conditions.”
The MPs made their recommendations just as thousands of Bangladeshi workers took to the streets in the Ashulia industrial belt outside Dhaka to demand a higher minimum wage. Nearly 200 factories have shuttered as a result of the labor unrest and at least 50 people reported injured in the clash between protestors and the police, who responded with rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas.
The demonstration, in its second day Tuesday, dovetailed with a three-day nationwide strike led by the main opposition party to make way for new elections under a caretaker government.
Pressure over Bangladesh’s dismal wages and lackluster safety record continues to mount in a country where workers are paid as little as $38 per month—half of what similar workers make in Vietnam and Cambodia or a quarter of China’s current minimum wage. As the world’s second-largest garment manufacturing country after China, however, Bangladesh can count on more than $20 billion a year from garment exports to North America and Europe.
Putting an end to Bangladesh’s unsafe factories doesn’t have to come at great cost, either. Even taking into account major renovations and upgrades to virtually all of the nation’s 3,200 facilities, Scott Nova of the Workers Rights Consortium estimates that it would cost brands and retailers less than 10 cents per garment to cover the expense over a span of five years.
Garment workers previously went on strike for six days in September, affecting production at approximately 20 percent of Bangladesh’s factories.