Warning against a repeat of the Rana Plaza tragedy, in which about 1133 workers were killed in a fire at a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Amirul Haque Amin, President of the Bangladeshi National Garment Workers Federation, has called upon eight leading high street clothing brands in the U.K. to sign up to an accord on workplace safety and fair labour practices in the garment industry in Bangladesh, where 3.6 million people are employed.
These brands are Matalan River Island, Sports Direct/Republic, Jane Norman, Peacocks, Bench, Mexx and Bank Fashion.
Mr. Amin is in the U.K. to speak at the annual conference of the Trade Union Congress (TUC, an umbrella organisation of British trade unions comprising 54 unions and 6.2 million members) to be held in Bournemouth from September 8th to 11th.
The Bangladesh Building and Fire Safety Accord, crafted by the global unions IndustrialALL and UNI, has already been signed by 86 clothes brands including names such as Abercrombie & Fitch (U.S.); Benetton (Italy); Carrefour (France); Casino Global (Hong Kong); Next; Primark; and Marks and Spencer (all three U.K.); H&M (Sweden); Mango (Spain). It also has labour NGOs such as Clean Clothes, plus representatives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Government of Bangladesh on board.
“Our demands are to ensure a safe workplace for garment workers through compulsory inspections, a living wage, and the right to organise,” Mr. Amin told The Hindu. “The conditions that garment workers are in is totally unacceptable, with the minimum wage just 3000 taka [around $39] a month. Workers must work 12 hour days, and sometimes seven days a week. But I am hopeful of the impact of the accord,” Mr. Amin said. Garment manufacture constitutes the biggest industrial sector in Bangladesh, he said, and over 79 per cent of its exports in 2011-2012.
“We are trying to build international solidarity on this issue, as it is about the ethics of U.K. companies where we shop and work. A motion on the agenda will be moved at our congress by the shop workers unions on the Bangladesh situation,” TUC’s Head of European Union (EU) and International Relations Department, Owen Tudor told The Hindu.
The issue of a living wage for Bangladeshi garment workers will find resonance at the TUC congress. The TUC — which has elected a woman, Frances O’Grady, as general secretary for the first time in its 145-year history — will focus on the British economy and the austerity measures that it says have had a devastating impact on work, wages and living standards.