Bangladeshi authorities have confirmed more than 657 deaths after the eight-story Rana Plaza collapsed just outside the South Asian nation’s capital of Dhaka on April 24. Murder complaints from families of the deceased have been filed against the building’s owner, Mohammad Sohel Rana, who was arrested after a four-day manhunt as he tried flee across the border to India. Similar charges also face the owner of one of the garment factories housed inside the facility and a municipal engineer who allegedly cleared its faulty construction without proper inspection. They and six others in police custody could face the death penalty if found guilty of murder or mass manslaughter.
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Photo by Sajid Hossain for Reuters
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that Adidas is encouraging workers in the factories of some of its Asian suppliers to “anonymously share possible grievances” directly with the company via text message. The new hotline service, according to the sportswear giant, will help bridge the communication gap between management and workers, allowing employees to “simply send an SMS when they feel their rights are breached.”
Adidas is encouraging workers in some of its factories to “anonymously share possible grievances” with the company via text message.
Not that Adidas has been immune from accusations of worker exploitation. The German company has only this month settled with 2,800 workers who were laid off after PT Kizone factory in Indonesia abruptly shut down in April 2011 with nearly half a year’s wages left unpaid. The unspecified settlement, which the Clean Clothes Campaign calls a “substantial sum,” marks an end to two years of campaigning after Adidas refused to pay $1.8 million in legally owed severance.
In the lead-up to the London Olympics in 2012, labor activists also targeted Adidas, the games’ official sportswear sponsor, for profiting off workers who earn as little as 52 cents an hour, are forced to work 15-hour days, and face constant harassment or threats of dismissal.
Indeed clothing suppliers, from Bangladesh and elsewhere, are blaming Western retailers and brands for putting the squeeze on prices, resulting in poor pay and even poorer conditions for workers. This so-called “race to the bottom” is amplified in Bangladesh, where wages as little as $38 a month have made it the world’s second-largest apparel exporter after China. The country’s garment industry is worth more than $19 billion, accounting for nearly 80 percent of Bangladesh’s annual exports. Sixty percent of its clothing is earmarked for Europe.
The European Union, which gives duty-free access to Bangladeshi garments, is considering trade action against Bangladesh if it doesn’t take steps to improve the labor conditions of its millions of garment workers.