Posted 19th June 2013
By Rosey Hurst, Founder and Director of Impactt Limited
Arriving in Bangladesh last week was like stepping back in time – and I don’t mean the pedal-powered rickshaws. All of us working in the rather overheated world of ethical trade in the West have been scheming and dreaming of Accords and Action Plans for the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh, following the appalling loss of life at Tazreen and Rana Plaza. Meanwhile in Bangladesh, the focus is still on getting the production out, meeting quality standards and shipment dates, just as it has been for the last 20 years – only the standards are higher and the deadlines tighter than ever before.
Yes, factory managers and owners are more aware of the risks of fire and building collapse, yes, workers are more nervous of cracks in buildings. But the fundamental issue – the overpowering dominance of product over people, has not changed. This logic – the garment industry is the only industry that brings significant foreign income into Bangladesh and therefore workers and owners are united in prioritising production – is what enables supervisors to lock doors during what they assume is a false fire alarm, and owners to push workers back into a collapsing building.
The biggest surprise for me here was the lack of awareness of the Accord, now signed by 50 companies, in partnership with Industriall, Clean Clothes Campaign, ETI and ILO, and the focus of international activity on the issue. In Dhaka it is clear that no factory owner, worker activist, politician or civil servant has had any information on the detail of what the Accord might mean, or any input into how to make it effective. Factories are experiencing increased expert inspections from brands, huge duplication of effort, and varying standards applied by different retailers – but no inkling of a concerted effort.
We all still have a chance to ensure that something positive comes out of the horrendous catalogue of disasters which have seen more than 1,120 deaths from accidents (that is, astoundingly, more than 1 in 4,000 garment workers, in under 6 months) since December last year. But please let’s engage with the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Textiles, the BGMEA, owners, managers and Bangladeshi workers’ rights activists before we finalise our implementation plans, otherwise brands’ best efforts and the biggest investment in improving labour standards in the history of international trade will come to nothing.
Impactt will be holding a seminar on July 3rd focusing exclusively on approaches to improving standards in Bangladesh. Places are limited – please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest.