Week of Action on Bangladesh Accord on Factory Safety
Could this be one of the most eventful weeks of campaigning for UK brands to commit to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety? It involved me getting chucked out of River Island in Bournemouth with the President of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) from Bangladesh, which makes it certainly one of my most memorable…
Amirul Haque-Amin, President of the NGWF opened TUC Congress 2013 with a powerful speech highlighting the devastating impact the Rana Plaza factory collapse had on garment workers and their families, leaving over 1,200 workers dead and 1,500 workers injured. After his speech, the TUC’s e-action was launched, calling on 8 major UK high street brands that hadn’t yet signed the Accord to commit to it. Please take this action and sign the petition to River Island being run by SumofUs.
Amirul and I embarked on some direct action at River Island in Bournemouth to encourage them to sign the Accord – you can see the film here. Rails of River Island’s cheapest clothes (yes, including the ones that have ‘London’ printed on the front) are being made in Bangladesh because the wages it can pay there are much lower than in China or Turkey, where garments are also mass produced. Amirul spoke about Bangladeshi unions’ campaigns for a living wage in Bangladesh at a War on Want event later that afternoon at the conference.
Amirul joined a number of key figures at the TUC Aid fringe event at our conference to discuss how unions and retailers could support Bangladeshi unions to drive forward the Accord. Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite and TUC Aid Trustee spoke of the TUC Aid appeal to support the families of those affected by the Rana Plaza Collapse. Philip Jennings, General Secretary of UNI-Global, the global union federation for retail workers, described how UNI developed the Accord with IndustriALL, the global union federation for garment workers, and the NGWF. This process was started two years ago but was accelerated into action by the Rana Plaza disaster. Debbie Coulter, Programmes Director at the Ethical Trading Initiative, spoke about ETI’s long running work in Bangladesh and how they encouraged corporate members of the ETI to sign the Accord. Fiona Wilson,Head of Research at shop workers union USDAW spoke of how they had encouraged retailers where they had members to sign the Accord.
At the event, Amirul told us how unions in Bangladesh often operate in a climate of repression, afraid to organise and speak out. This repression particularly affects women workers, who make up over 80% of Bangladesh’s garment sector. All the speakers emphasised the importance of solidarity between unions and brands internationally to make sure unions in Bangladesh are able to play the role mandated for them in the Accord to make Bangladeshi factories safer.
Wednesday & Thursday
Compensation meetings were held for the brands and retailers sourcing from the factories involved in the Tazreen factory fire which took place in November 2012 and the Rana Plaza factory collapse, facilitated by the International Labour Organisation in Geneva. Clean Clothes Campaign estimate that at least 71 million US Dollars will be needed to provide full compensation to the affected families of the Rana Plaza collapse and 5.7 million US Dollars would be needed to compensated workers and families involved in the Tazreen factory fire.
Of the 29 brands invited to the Rana Plaza compensation meeting, it was concerning that 20 failed to show up: Adler, Auchan, Benetton, C&A, Carrefour, Cato Corp, The Children’s Place, Dressbarn, Essenza, FTA International, Gueldenpfennig, Iconix Brand, Inditex, JC Penney, Kids Fashion Group, LPP, Mango, Manifattura Corona, NKD, Premier Clothing, PWT Group, Texman and Walmart.
Only 9 brands attended the meeting: Bon Marché, Camaieu, El Corte Ingles, Kik, Loblaw, Mascot, Matalan, Primark and Store Twenty One. Join Clean Clothes Campaign’s action to call on all brands to attend the compensation meetings and start to repay workers for the damage these factory disaster have had on their lives.
The week ended on a high with the news that Arcadia group – owners of Topshop and Topman – agreed to sign the Accord. Let’s hope that, as London Fashion Week takes grip of the capital next week, we will see River Island, Matalan, Bench, Mexx, Bank Fashion and Republic (owned by SportsDirect) join Arcadia and the rest of the UK high street by signing the Accord.