How union rights in Bangladesh could have saved lives
A lot has now been written about the horrific fire at Tazreen Fashions in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed over a hundred textile workers last Saturday. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the people who were murdered by their employer in the name of cheaper clothes and higher profits, and the last moments of those who died either burning to death in the crowded factory or jumping from windows because there was no fire escape must have been terrifying.
There are lots of lessons, of course. Better health and safety rules (you know, like our Government’s trying to scrap because they’re burdensome); less reliance on inadequate external auditing companies; and more corporate responsibility by the major western retailers – Walmart are coming under particular pressure in the USA, despite their attempts to dodge the blame - who make detailed demands on price, delivery dates and design but swear they can’t influence wage levels, child labour or workplace conditions. The TUC is doing a lot of work through the Ethical Trading Initiative to improve labour standards in international supply chains, in alliance with global unions like IndustriALL.
But the main reason why countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and so on keep having these disasters is simple. They haven’t got strong, independent trade unions (with empowered workers who conduct real auditing on working conditions, 24/7!)
Bangladeshi employers use every trick in the book – legal and otherwise – to prevent unionisation, aided and abetted by a political class which only wants trade unions if they are adjuncts to their electoral ambitions.
There are fantastic trade unionists in Bangladesh: the IndustriALL affiliate Bangladesh National Council of Textile Garment and Leather Workers (BNC) staged a demonstration in front of Dhaka Press Club and at Chittagong station road. Bangladeshi garment workers’ unions even stood up to be counted in solidarity with us on 20 October. But we need to support their right to organise for better working conditions, as we have done on environmental standards.