Virginia’s Reflections

Virginia’s Reflections

Collapsed textile factories in Bangladesh create uproars

The collapse of an eight story building in Bangladesh with several textile factories in the building at full operation has over 300 victims and over 1500 injured and will be the countries deadliest industrial accident. As a consequence that the building was erected without permission and that labour was forced to go on with work when there were already visible ruptures in the outside walls of the building is leading to great unrest within the community of textile workers and it is a public anger that police handled rather brutally

Already the fires with a large number of victims called for an outraged action by renowned textile retailers such Bangladeshi companies were working for. As we all recall, Bangladesh is the second largest clothing exporter after China. The western customers of such textile factories keep telling us that they took all precautions that their suppliers are in line with international safety standards and that they comply with the customers’ standards. However, at least two of the garment factories at the collapsed location Rana Plaza have passed international labour and safety standard audits under a European trade organisation that addressed specific safety concerns at the factories but didn’t assess the stability of the building that housed them! Strangely enough the owner of Rana Plaza, a local politician by name of Sobel Rana did never obtain mandatory permits from the municipal agency in the greater Dhaka area, but the local mayor paved its own way that the building complex could be built. In total it housed after completion five textile factories since 2007.  They mayor stated that it would have taken too much time to get the official permission from the municipal agency. Therefore he used his established procedure – he has applied to hundreds of factories in that area – to give way to a local building permit. The representatives of the municipal agency deny that he had such an authority.

The government of Bangladesh promised to take action to improve factory safety. In March a national action plan on fire safety to place, but only after several severe incidents with many victims. The plans include modernised equipment, overhauling fire and building safety. Important customers, such as American giant WalMart, are supporting the government’s initiative and provide measures and funds to speed up action. As we  can see now only after grave incidents and uproars of the local textile workers measures are implied, however each initiative needs some education also on behalf of the textile plant owners and operators and now the third category are jointly construction companies and to be building owners. TextileFuture is convinced that it is not the last severe incident we will have to report, because there has to take place a fundamental change of mentality first that implies social responsibility, and there is now switch allowing for immediate change. Additionally, these measures to take urgently place are costly, and Bangladesh fears to lose its competitive edge in its most dominant industrial sector, namely textiles and garments. Western customers and end consumers must be prepared to pay a fairer price for garments manufactured in Bangladesh under working conditions following international accepted standards. We have sadly to add that up to now, no factory owner has been charged over a worker’s death. Why, because at least 33 members (10 % of the seats) of the current Parliament own garment business and according to Babul Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, there are repeated instances of MPs linked to the garment industry were blocking stricter legislation. Maybe when those owners are denied further order by their western customers the miserable practise will soon come to a forced end!

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