Savar Tragedy International Implications

Savar Tragedy  International Implications

The Ready Made Garments (RMG) industry began in Bangladesh sometime in 1978. It caught the imagination of many Bangladesh entrepreneurs and it has become an industry of more than $22 billion dollars.

The RMG industry has been the main source of growth in the export market of Bangladesh. It is also the foremost sector in employment generation. The industry employs more than 4 million workers of whom 90% are women.

The country has more than 7,000 factories. Bangladesh’s garment exports – mainly to the US and Europe – make up nearly 80% of the country’s export income

The record of the entrepreneurs in the RMG is commendable but their safety record for workers is much to be desired. It is reported that during the last 15 years, 13 major tragic incidents occurred and the Bangladesh Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) could not prevent such occurrences because of a few owners who reportedly failed to take adequate care for the workers.

The multi-storied building Rana Plaza in Savar in which five garment factories among other shops were located collapsed due to structural fault on 24th April, 2013, killing about 400 and thousands are maimed and seriously injured. This is not only the first incident which killed garment workers.

It is reported that in 2012 November at the Tazreen factory, fire broke out and 112 workers died. In 2011, fire engulfed Eurotex garment factory and killed six workers. In 2010, in Ha-Meem’s That’s IT sweater garment factory, 28 workers died because of fire in the factory. In the same year ( 2010,) in the Garib & Garib garment factory, fire broke out for the second time within six months and about 21 workers died. ( Bangla daily Banik Barta: 30th April 2013)

EU’s response:

It is reported that following the Savar tragedy, the European Union voiced strong concern over labour conditions in Bangladesh after a building collapse which killed hundreds of factory workers, and said it was considering action to encourage improvements, including the use of its trade preference system.

“The EU is presently considering appropriate action, including through the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) – through which Bangladesh currently receives duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market under the ‘Everything But Arms’ scheme – in order to incentivise responsible management of supply chains involving developing countries,” said the statement, issued by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht.

The EU’s foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said they were “very concerned” about labor conditions in Bangladesh. The EU is Bangladesh largest trade partner.

From the temper and tone of the language it appears that unless drastic reforms are undertaken for safety of workers, EU may likely to suspend the GSP which will have adverse impact on the owners, workers and government.

UN Human Rights Council & Bangladesh:

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights. The HRC reviews every four years a country’s record of human rights including workers’ rights and it is known as Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

Bangladesh’s case was reviewed in 2009 and the second review took place on 29th April 2013.

At the Council, the United States has expressed concern over recent tragedies in factories in Bangladesh as well as political violence and reported rights abuse by members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).

The concern was expressed by US Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Eileen C Donahoe during the hearing on human rights issues in the Council.. “We appreciate the government’s willingness to address worker safety and rights, but remain concerned by the recent tragedies in factories. Concrete steps should be taken.

Other countries, such as Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, UK, Japan, Hungary and Finland were critical about Bangladesh’s records of human rights.

The Bangladesh Government’s delegation led by Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni presented Bangladesh’s national report to the UN Human Rights Council. The Foreign Minister has put forward to the Council all the actions which the government has adopted to protect human rights of people including workers and also the plan of actions to strengthen it in consultation with all the stakeholders in future. The Minister also stated that the criticisms of other countries on human rights record in Bangladesh were misconceived and not borne out by facts on the ground.

Foreign Buyers:

Meanwhile the importers are put into a delicate situation because of the Savar tragedy. Clothing and order forms from a half dozen Western brands were found in the rubble of the toppled building outside Dhaka, including Canadian retail giant Loblaw Cos., Spanish retailers Mango and El Corte Inglés, and Italian retailer Benetton Group SpA.

There were picketers in front of the buyers in Canada, UK and US among other importing countries because it is alleged the buyers also want cheap products at the expense of safety of workers.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc., and Hennes & Mauritz AB met with about 30 Western retailers, labor groups and nongovernmental organizations to work on a plan to prevent industrial disasters like last week’s deadly building collapse in Bangladesh.

The discussions included creating a clearinghouse of factory-inspection results, so companies can see where other retailers stopped production over safety concerns, participants said. The group plans to publish the results of the talks in May.

Gap, Wal-Mart and H&M all confirmed they attended 29th April meeting in Eschborn, a town near Frankfurt, at the headquarters of GIZ, a German federal agency. A spokeswoman for El Corte Inglés SA, the Spanish department-store chain, confirmed discussions of a program aimed at monitoring and improving Bangladesh’s industrial infrastructure.
Representatives of some 45 companies, including Gap Inc , H&M, JC Penney, Nike Inc, Wal-Mart, Britain’s Primark, Marks & Spencer and Tesco, and Li & Fung, also met officials from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association in Dhaka on 30th April to discuss safety.
The Retail Council of Canada, which represents operators of more than 43,000 stores in Canada, said it would work with international organisations, the Bangladeshi government and others to find ways to address safety in the Bangladesh garment industry.
Primark, and El Corte Inglés and Loblaw have promised to compensate the families of garment workers killed while making their clothes.
A contract crafted by the U.S.-based International Labor Rights Forum and other groups after a 2010 garment-factory fire, the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, has so far failed to take effect since not enough retailers have signed on.

The incidents have renewed calls for a wider safety agreement that would require retailers to sign on to a binding inspection system that would alert workers and the public when a factory is unsafe.

Retailers are working on a broader agreement that “more brands are likely to sign up for,” said Peter McAllister, director of the London-based group Ethical Trade Initiative, who attended the meeting.

Labor groups would like to make this information open to the public so workers will also know if their factories are safe, but retailers have resisted amid worries about lawsuits.

Some participants said it is unclear if the meeting will result in meaningful action.
“What will end these disasters is an urgent program of building renovations,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, who attended the meeting. “That will only happen when brands make enforceable commitments to carry out and pay for it.”


The bottom line is every worker has a right to work in a safe environment and expect to come home from work in the same state of health as they left.

If safety of workers is not ensured, it involves costs to the community, such as health services, rehabilitation and loss of skilled labour and costs to employees through reduced quality of life as a result of workplace injury and disease, reduced income for the injured and their family and grief by everyone involved. The garment owners may realize the correlation between high standards of safety and productivity of factories.

It is imperative that all stakeholders and the agencies of the government may ensure workplace health and safety for workers together with the safety of the factory-buildings. Some analysts say that Trade Union should be allowed among garment workers and the BGMEA and the Union Officials may ensure that all safety standards and workers rights consistent with ILO Conventions are strictly followed. Hopefully there would never be another tragedy involving the death of poor workers.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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