Another deadly factory collapse in Bangladesh!

Police attack striking garment workers
Police attack striking garment workers

THE BWI (Building and Wood Worker’s International) union federation has undertaken a fact finding mission on the deadly building collapse in Mongla Cement Factory in Bangladesh.

‘Lessons are not being learnt in Bangladesh – again the use sub-standard material, structural deficiencies and neglecting health and safety standards took away eight precious lives and left 46 injured,’ said Shahidul Alam, BSBWWF General Secretary while expressing his outrage and disappointment.

The BWI along with its affiliates BBWWF and BSBWWF undertook an urgent mission from 18-20 March 2015 and visited the accident site, met the victims’ families, injured workers, local leaders and officials.

The incident occurred at the Mongla Cement Factory in Bagehat District, 300 kilometres from Dhaka on 12 March 2015.

The mission visited the Bagmara area of the Khulna division to meet the family members of the deceased workers and also visited injured workers at the Khulna Medical Hospital.

The visit and interactions revealed a tale of negligence and utter disrespect to the health and safety standards and consequent loss of lives and injuries.

Khadiza Akhtar, wife of deceased Bakir Billah stated: ‘We have lost our sole bread earner in this accident and now what we remain with is a paltry compensation of Taka 100,000. Is this how you value the life of a worker?’

As per the Bangladeshi Labour Law, the stipulated compensation for death during work is Taka 100,000 (US$ 1250) and additionally Taka 20,000 (US$ 250) has been given by the local administration.

However, the families of the deceased and injured workers were unanimous in venting their anger on the low compensation that did not do justice to the families who have either lost their bread winners or find them injured.

One of the injured workers at the Khulna Medical College, Mansoor mentioned: ‘I had reached the worksite early in the morning and the work commenced as per schedule.

‘The roof gave in all of a sudden, the workers did not have any personal protective equipment – I am now lying in the hospital in severe pain and have injuries on chest, hand and leg and also two teeth are broken.

‘At my age, it will take months for me to recover from this injury.’

Along with other partners, a campaign has been launched for enhancing compensation and additionally to explore legal action while continuing to work on revision in Bangladesh Labour Law and also ratification of ILO Conventions 155 and Convention 167.

• Last month IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and the Clean Clothes Campaign launched a countdown to the second anniversary of Rana Plaza, calling on brands to fill the gap in compensation for victims before 24 April 2015.

The three organisations negotiating compensation for its victims, jointly launched a countdown campaign on March 24 to remind consumers, governments and the brands that almost two years on from the garment industry’s deadliest disaster, justice has still not been done for the thousands of workers killed and injured.

IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and the Clean Clothes Campaign are ramping up demands on global brands linked to the disaster to fill an US$8.5million gap in the funding needed to deliver full and fair compensation to each of the over 5,000 individuals with eligible claims.

So far US$21.5 million has been paid into the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund through contributions from buyers, the Bangladesh Prime Ministers Fund and other private donors.

All contributions are used exclusively to make payments to Rana Plaza victims and their families. It is calculated that at least US$30 million is needed to cover compensation claims.

To date claimants have only received a maximum of 70 per cent of what they are owed, with further payments delayed as a result of the failure of brands to pay the US$8.5million needed to complete the scheme.

A number of globally recognised brands, all with links to the Rana Plaza factories, have so far refused to provide adequate payments into the Fund. Amongst the worst offenders is Benetton, who is yet to pay a penny into the Fund.

Others, including Walmart, Mango and The Children’s Place, are being singled out for making donations that fall far short of expectations. Other companies still to pay the required amount include Lee Cooper, JC Penny, Matalan and Kik.

After several months in which almost no significant donations were received by the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, there are some causes for optimism.

In recent weeks a trickle of donations has come into the Fund, reducing the gap by half a million. However a promise by Benetton, made in February, to pay a contribution to the Fund has so far not been honoured and rumours that the Bangladesh Alliance was planning to make a significant donation have to date proven unfounded.

The three organisations are hoping that renewed pressure on brands in the countdown to the anniversary will translate into sufficient contributions to finally meet the full cost of compensation.

IndustriALL Global Union General Secretary Jyrki Raina said: ‘For an industry that is all about image, the garment brands are taking shockingly long to do the right thing and close one of the most shameful chapters in the history book of the global clothing industry.

‘It has been almost two years since this industrial homicide; the victims and their families are owed compensation and the possibility to build a new future.’

UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings said: ‘The clock is ticking and we expect to see nothing less than full and generous contributions by April 24th from every brand still to pay.

‘Garment industry brands pride themselves on being trend setters and responding to the fast-changing fashion world. In this case the brakes have been firmly slammed on.

‘Every cent of this money will go directly to families who have lost loved ones or to victims no longer able to work. It is the right thing to do.’

Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign said: ‘The victims of Rana Plaza have had enough of the broken promises and false sympathy of the brands. They want this to be settled now so they can move on with their lives.’

Brands still expected to pay into the fund include:

Benetton (2013 revenue 1.6 billion euros)

On 24 February 2015 Benetton publically committed to paying compensation before 24 April 2015, but is yet to honour that commitment. The Italian brand says it has appointed an independent third party to advise the company on its payment but has refused to state publically who that third party is. The three organisations question Benetton’s decision to delay its payment further.

The Children’s Place (2013 revenue US$1.8 billion)

The US clothing firm initially gave an estimated £450,000 through the charity BRAC US. Campaigners are demanding US$8 million from the company which had a revenue of US$1.8 billion in 2013. The Children’s Place is the subject of a major campaign in the US and received critical press recently when the company had a Rana Plaza survivor arrested during a protest at its headquarters.

Walmart (2014 revenue US$ 485.651 billion)

Walmart, the world’s largest and richest retailer, has paid an estimated US$ 1 million into the fund through the charity BRAC US – a small contribution given Walmart’s size and the total amount required. It has suggested it is ready to make further contributions but is yet to follow through with any payment.

Mango (2013 revenue 1.85 billion euros)

The Spanish clothing company made a very small donation last year but must commit to paying in full before the two-year anniversary.

IndustriALL, UNI Global Union and the Clean Clothes Campaign believe all brands sourcing clothes from Bangladesh, not only those connected to Rana Plaza, should pay compensation into the fund.

IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union are the two global unions that developed and signed the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy. The two unions and the Clean Clothes Campaign sit on the Accord steering committee. The Bangladesh Accord has been signed by almost 200 global brands, covering around 1,500 factories and two million workers.