ACT NOW! Tell Bangladesh to reform its labour laws
The TUC is backing a global union campaign calling on the Bangladesh Government to improve its labour law, and we need your help. Sign up now and then encourage everyone you know who cares about the rights of the workers who make our clothes to do the same.
Since the Rana Plaza factory disaster at the end of April, unions have at last been getting a hearing for our concerns about what’s going on in Bangladesh. We’ve finally persuaded over 50 companies to sign up to the Global Union Accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh (there will be more news on the Accord’s progress tonight – I’ll blog about that on Touchstone at 11pm) and, after six years of review, the US Government has suspended the trade privileges Bangladeshi goods entering the US have had. That seems to have pushed the Bangladesh Government to improve its labour laws, but they need an extra push.
Unions are using global supply chains and multinational trade agreements as powerful tools to improve standards in Bangladesh’s ready made garment sector. But it isn’t all about those supply chains. The Government of Bangladesh needs to give workers a stronger right to join unions (at present, unions have to inform the employer who’s joined: a powerful disincentive!) and more rights at work over health and safety, minimum wages and collective bargaining.
The Rana Plaza disaster wasn’t the first tragedy in Bangladesh’s ready made garment sector, although it was certainly the worst, with over a thousand workers killed. It wasn’t even the only building collapse to result in fatalities in April, and it came hard on the heels of last November’s Tazreen Fashions factory fire. But it has had such a high profile that Governments and corporates have been forced to act.
That’s given unions the opportunity to make a lasting impact on workers’ rights in Bangladesh. The AFLCIO – the TUC’s equivalent – welcomed the US decision on trade preferences, with President Rich Trumka saying:
“The decision to suspend trade benefits sends an important message to our trading partners: Countries that benefit from preferential trade programs must comply with their terms. Countries that tolerate dangerous – and even deadly — working conditions and deny basic workers’ rights, especially the right to freedom of association, will risk losing preferential access to the US market.”
“Bangladesh’s workers, many of them young women, need good jobs with strong worker protections, a voice at work and safe work places. The AFL-CIO hopes that the suspension of GSP benefits will be a catalyst to accelerate an effective process involving the government, employers and workers of Bangladesh to achieve these goals.”
We don’t want companies to shift their contracts. Some are already planning to move to Burma where wages and conditions are even worse (we’re already building union capacity there and the ITUC and ILO are working on responsible investment strategies for business.) But we do want to make sure that workers’ rights improve, and, most significantly, they gain the right to organise and bargain effectively.