Reform follows Bangladesh tragedies except Wal-Mart refuses to sign up

Walmart refuses to join worker safety deal | Business | The Guardian. There have been three tragedies in the last six months in garment factories in Bangladesh. First, 112 garment workers perished when a fire erupted and the doors and windows were locked closed at the Tazreen factory on November 29, 2012, then in January, 2013 another fire at Smart Export garments killed seven women, several of them teenagers, and then the Rana Building collapse on April 24, 2013, which killed 1,127 garment workers. Since these tragedies (and the subsequent riots that they evoked), the Bangladesh government is now allowing unions to form without first getting the consent of the owner. Plus, there has been a contract with retailers and Bangladesh (this has been in the works for years, undercut by Wal-Mart two years ago [see my link Wal-Mart tightens up on suppliers/Profits Over Safety], but it has finally come into fruition) with a number of the biggest retailers signing, including H & M, which is Bangladesh’s largest import buyer.

The Contract

What is the contract? The contract is a legally binding agreement that will require rigorous and independent safety inspections of factories with public reports and mandatory repairs. Also, the costs of the repairs and improvements will be made by the Western retailers up to $500,000  a year. Plus, these businesses must stop doing business with any factory that refuses to make safety improvements. The retailers that have signed the agreement: H & M, Inditex (owner of Zara’s), Primarc, Tesco, C & A, Abercrobie & Fitch, PVH (Calvin Klein), Tommy Hilfiger, IZOD, Tchibo Saitsbury, Topshop, Benetton, Carrefour, and Mango. See the top link for names of more of the U.K. retailers that have signed the agreement.

The Holdouts

The following retailers have not committed to the contract for improved safety conditions: (U.S.) Wal-Mart, Gap, Target, J.C. Penny, Sears, Children’s Place, Toys R Us, Babies R Us, (U.K.) Matalan, Peacocks, River Island. The Gap has not signed because it wants more protection from being sued. (I don’t think Bangladesh will relent on this, the Gap can always use the old Walmart ploy – it’s called the blind eye ploy – we don’t really follow our subcontractors, so we are not liable). The Gap has 78 factories in Bangladesh, but Wal-Mart has 279 factories, and says they already have their own rules to conduct safety inspections – but it only requires inspection of 60% of the factories. Wal-Mart, also, has a large team of experienced lawyers that fight off these types of lawsuits all the time, see link: Walmart’s legal disputes from Hastings Law.

Should We Care if Companies sign the Agreement and Should we Buy Clothing From Bangladesh

“Consumers could help pressure retailers to switch orders from Bangladesh, which would bring about change”, says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “We have seen it in the case of ‘blood diamonds’, how when consumers become aware and avoid purchasing diamonds that are not sourced properly then the industry is forced to change.” (Maybe they should call it ‘Blood clothing’?)

Blood clothing

Blood clothing

Babul Akhter, head of Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Federation said “Garment entrepreneurs are above the law here. There is hardly an example of an owner being prosecuted for this kind of outright murder.” He added: “The Western retailers are also complicit because they give a blind eye to the manufacturers shoddy practices.” I think the answer to the question of buying from Bangladesh is no.

Childhood Labor

This subject (of childhood labor) has been ignored in all of the reporting on the Bangladesh disasters. And in this most recent collapse, there is no mention of how many underage children were killed in the collapse. That is because it is a touchy subject. In the “formal garment factories”, there are not supposed to be any underage workers. The Bangladesh Factory Act sets a minimum age of 14 years of age and hazardous work must be 18 years of age. The interpretation of hazardous is quite varied, some think it means continual hazards. Then the “formal garment factory” are very few – they are kind of like the Manhattan executive buildings. Many formal, if not all, subcontract and this is where the informal garment workers labor. (Probably like within the Rana building). Based on 2012 statistics, there are 42.4 million Bangladesh children (between ages 5 and 17 years of age).  Of these 42.4 Million children, 5 million are working full time (most working 6 days a week and 56.2% working more than 40 hours per week), and a half million children work and go to school (they average 5 – 19 hours per week). Children work in the following disciplines: 52.7% in Agriculture, 14.6% in manufacturing, 14.2% in trading and 18.5% others. In the garment manufacturing, children under 14 do jobs like thread cutting, machine cleaning, hand stitching and dyeing, older children – weaving and button stitching, sometimes embroidery and printing. Based on the data, it would seem that about 20 -25% of informal garment workers are underage. That would mean approximately 250 underage workers perished in the Rana building collapse. If you don’t like buying clothing made by children, then stop buying from certain countries, especially from East Asian countries like: India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and China.  We have turned a blind eye for too long. And the media continues to bury the truth. Maybe some day we will awaken. Say No to Blood Clothing. Buy American.


Child Labor in the Informal Garment Production in Bangladesh


2 Responses to “Reform follows Bangladesh tragedies except Wal-Mart refuses to sign up”

  1. 1 Rebekah
    June 7, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    I have been working to be more conscious of where I spend my money when I buy clothes, for this very reason. I got to thinking, does anyone know if we also hurt these very poor people when we stop buying from the countries that do use child labor? Are these kids working so their families have money to. Survive? How are we helping them by not buying from those countries? Any information on this?

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