Karel De Gucht, the European Union’s trade commissioner; Dipu Moni, Bangladesh’s foreign minister; and Guy Ryder, director-general of the International Labour Organisation, have co-launched a joint initiative to improve conditions for workers in Bangladeshi garment factories.
The move follows the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in April, which resulted in more than 1,100 deaths.
The initiative, the “Compact for Continuous Improvements in Labour Rights and Factory Safety in the Ready-Made Garment and Knitwear Industry in Bangladesh,” aims to improve labor, health and safety conditions for workers, as well as encourage responsible behavior by businesses in the ready-made garment industry in the South Asian country. It lists commitments to act within deadlines on issues such as reforming the Bangladeshi labor law to strengthen worker rights and recruiting 200 additional inspectors by the end of 2013 and improving building and fire safety by June 2014.
“It’s clear that we need to join forces to be able to improve the labor conditions for the thousands of Bangladeshi workers in the garment industry,” De Gucht said in a written statement. “This compact is the basis — now we need to make every effort to make it a reality so that another Rana Plaza-type tragedy in Bangladesh can be avoided.”
Furthermore, a mostly European consortium of 70 retailers and apparel brands has agreed to inspect all Bangladeshi garment factories that supply the companies within nine months, The New York Times reports.
The companies agreed that they would take responsibility and immediate action where serious safety problems are found, and pledged to ensure that sufficient funds are available to pay for renovations and other safety improvements. The legally binding plan was negotiated with labor unions and non-government organizations since mid-May, when the effort was originally announced.
Meanwhile, several American companies said they disliked the plan because it was legally binding and might subject them to lawsuits. Some American retailers, including Wal-Mart, Gap and Target, have instead joined an alternative plan, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.
On July 10, the American alliance plans to release its action plan, “The Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative,” which was developed in partnership with former senators George J. Mitchell and Olympia Snowe, through the Bipartisan Policy Center. The initiative seeks to protect workers and elevate fire and building safety in Bangladeshi garment factories.
Major U.S. and European retailers had previously disagreed on how to ensure worker safety in Bangladesh in the weeks immediately following the Rana Plaza tragedy.