When the US government suspended Bangladesh’s trade benefits under its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program for the country’s poor labor record earlier this year, it was a powerful signal that the Asian country could not keep doing business as usual, writes Tim Ryan, Asia regional director for the Solidarity Center:
The extent of the neglect was grimly highlighted by the fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory last November, where blocked stairwells and barred windows contributed to the deaths of 112 workers, and the Rana Plaza building collapse in April, in which more than 1,200 workers, most of them young women, died in a building they knew to be unsafe.
Since the Tazreen blaze, the Solidarity Center’s Dhaka office has documented 53 fire-related incidents in garment factories, which have killed at least 27 people and injured more than 750. The most recent deadly fire occurred in early October, when 10 people perished. Despite hefty promises and comprehensive “action plans” from manufacturers and the government, the effort to improve fire safety in the Bangladesh garment industry will require commitment by all parties, including the workers who risk their lives every day just going to work.
“Workers are the best monitors of conditions in their factories because they are on the shop floor every day, as opposed to auditors hired by companies,” Ryan writes for the International Business Times:
GSP pressure, international attention and the Accord have opened the political space for Bangladeshi workers to organise independent unions – for the first time in the garment industry’s history. Fifty-six unions have been formed and registered in 2013, compared with only one each in 2012 and 2011, after decades of obstruction by government and employers.
“The Bangladeshis have an opportunity to create a new business paradigm that respects and protects workers,” Ryan concludes.