Do you remember the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh? Compliance is still a sham 8 years later
TThe 2013 Dhaka garment collapse, killing more than 1,100 workers and injuring 2,600 more, is the garment industry’s worst industrial incident.
It was not just the number of bodies, however, that caused the collapse of Rana Plaza, a nine-story building in the Bangladeshi industrial town of Savar (near Dhaka), to (briefly) attract attention. global and spurred activism around the world to improve. the treatment of garment workers.
It was an accident waiting to happen. Structural cracks in the building had been discovered the day before. The businesses on the lower floors (stores and bank) were closed immediately. The five garment factories on the upper floors allowed their workers to continue working. On the morning of April 24, 2013, there was a power cut. The diesel generators at the top of the building were turned on. Then the building collapsed.
The official death toll is 1,132. But these things are never clear. This number does not include, for example, Nowshad Hasan Himu, a volunteer who spent 17 days in rescue work that lifted more than 1,000 survivors from the rubble. Some could only be freed by amputation of limbs. Himu saved dozens of the living and moved the dead as well. On April 24, 2019, the sixth anniversary of the disaster, he committed suicide.
He couldn’t forget. It must not be forgotten.
The Rana Plaza collapse briefly shed light on the belly of the global fashion industry, a US $ 2.4 trillion industry that employs around 40 million of the world’s poorest workers, often in dangerous conditions. and degrading. About 4 million of them are in Bangladesh, the second largest exporter of “ready-to-wear” in the world, after China.
Activist groups such as the Clean Clothes Campaign have lobbied for compensation for victims – many of whom still suffer from their injuries – and better conditions for garment workers in general. Because it was not an isolated incident. Garment workers regularly die in factory fires and face other dangers.
At least 29 global brands have been identified as doing business with one or more of the five factories in the Rana Plaza building.
Each was “an accomplice participant in creating an environment that ultimately led to the death and dismemberment of thousands of people,” the Clean Clothes Campaign said. However, the problem was much broader than these brands alone. It was a systemic problem. In a sense, every buyer choosing clothes on the basis of the cheapest price was complicit.
The industry is committed to doing better. Within a month, 222 companies signed the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, a legally binding agreement aimed at ensuring garment workers have safe workplaces.
Things have improved. But not enough. Eight years later, the fundamental problems of global supply chains – the mismatch between profits, responsibility and accountability – remain.
Conformity, a masquerade
This disconnect was glaring when we interviewed Bangladeshi manufacturers and an Australian retailer in 2018 as part of our research.
Retailers have argued that they are meeting their obligations by sourcing only from manufacturers that comply with the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement.
But manufacturers have told us that compliance is often a sham. As we said:
Changes made after Rana Plaza, such as limiting workers’ overtime and having a nurse and educator available at the facility, are often not made until the day of the audit.
The reason: to keep costs low. As another manufacturer put it:
While we follow the rules set by the retailer to promote safe production practices, price and quality still play a big role in getting orders.
Also read: You can’t live in Levi’s on lockdown. Purani jeans are not comfortable clothes after all
Pocket the profits
Here is the problem illustrated in T-shirt terms.
According to the Clean Clothes Campaign – an organization backed by 230 unions, non-governmental organizations and research organizations – only 0.6% of the retail price of a t-shirt goes to the worker. The owner of the factory takes 4% profit. The brand label takes 12%. But the retailer takes 59%.
These figures are, of course, averages. They do not claim to be the exact distribution of profits for each shirt. But they give a good idea of how the system is weighted. The next time you see a t-shirt for under $ 10, think about how much the manufacturer made.
Improving conditions for workers must certainly involve internal reforms in Bangladesh, both through stricter labor and health and safety laws, as well as through regulation and enforcement. But easing the relentless pressure from buyers on suppliers to cut costs is also crucial.
Plant operators told us they wanted buyers to insist on better conditions for workers and to pay enough for this to happen. They welcomed contracts to spend money on safer buildings and higher wages.
Economic pressures are increasing
But it is the pressure to cut costs that has intensified with the COVID crisis.
Between March and June 2020, brands canceled multi-billion dollar clothing orders from Bangladeshi manufacturers. By September, more than 357,000 of the country’s 4 million garment workers had lost their jobs and many more were forced to take lower wages. (Total textile exports for 2020 fell by almost 17%, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.)
In November 2020, Oxfam, in partnership with Monash University, released a report raising ‘serious questions about brands’ commitment to ensuring that workers in their supply chains receive decent wages and work in decent conditions. “.
Based on around 150 surveys and 22 in-depth interviews with industry stakeholders, it assessed the purchasing practices of Australia’s top 10 fashion retailers.
Overall, manufacturers rated H&M Group as the best (3 out of 4). Big W, Kmart and Target Australia scored 2.5. Best & Less, Cotton On, Inditex and Myer got 2.
The worst performers were The Just Group (Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Jacqui E, Peter Alexander, Portmans, Dotti) and Mosaic Brands (Millers, Rockmans, Noni B, Rivers, Katies, Autograph, Crossroads and Beme). These two companies, as well as Myer, also declined to participate in the research.
To resolve the mismatch between profit, liability and liability, retailers and brands need to be much more closely involved in knowing and taking charge of what is going on in the factories they source.
Shams Rahman, Professor of Supply Chain Management, RMIT University and Aswini Yadlapalli, Senior Lecturer in Supply Chain Management, RMIT University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Also read: Overtime, no bathroom breaks – Workers at Indian factories supplying M&S, Ralph Lauren told BBC
Subscribe to our channels on YouTube and Telegram
Why the news media is in crisis and how to fix it
India needs even more free, fair, open-ended, questioning journalism in the face of multiple crises.
But the news media are in a crisis of their own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, giving in to crass spectacle in prime time.
ThePrint has the best young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. To support journalism of this quality, smart, thoughtful people like you have to pay the price. Whether you live in India or abroad, you can do it here.
Support our journalism