Fashion brands need to pay up for Rana Plana victims
The media have rediscovered Rana Plaza and working conditions in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry, as we approach the 24 April first anniversary of the building collapse that killed over 1100 people and injured hundreds more. The main priority for campaigners this week will be pressing companies to pay up the £24m needed for the ILO-run compensation fund for victims and families, who are in dire need.
So far, companies keen to improve their public reputation have donated about £10 million, but that leaves a substantial gap. Twenty-four MPs have already signed an Early Day Motion tabled by veteran trade union MP (and chair of the all-party group on Bangladesh) Jim Fitzpatrick. Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Alison McGovern have backed the Fashion Revolution campaign to press for change in the industry.
Jyrki Raina, of IndustriALL Global Union says:
“The needs of the workers who survived this catastrophy, and the families of those who did not, are desperate. This last year the victims have seen medical expenses, lack of income and the horrors of that day relived. The brands can show that they can be part of the solution – but only if they pay up. When … the world asks all of us what we have done in response to the Rana Plaza disaster a year ago, do they want to say they have failed the victims? ”
Over 150 companies have signed up to the union-led Fire & Building Safety Accord which is now beginning to force change in health and safety conditions (due largely to a quality inspection system, publication of the inspection reports and legally binding commitments by corporates). And the ILO have set out the steps the government of Bangladesh need to take to free trade unions and empower workers.
The role of unions has taken a back seat in the coverage of the issue in UK papers (not unusual, but still depressing), despite the role they have played in establishing the Accord, negotiating the compensation fund, and pressing employers to do the right thing – or move in that direction at least. And even where unions have got some coverage, it has been the unions globally, rather than the most important unions of all: the ones in Bangladesh.
Some journalists are even rehearsing the tired old story that it is western consumers who are to blame for conditions in the Bangladesh textile industry, as if we are in charge of how much we pay for clothes! As TUC research shortly after the Rana Plaza disaster showed, doubling the wages of garment workers in Dhaka would add 2p to the price of a tee-shirt, even assuming the profits of Bangladesh factory owners and multinational companies couldn’t swallow such costs without noticing.
Unions are the future of the industry, and supporting their struggles is the best way to create decent conditions for textile workers: not charity, codes of conduct or concerned consumers.