Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rana Plaza: all talk, no action

In April 2013 when Rana Plaza collapsed killing over 1100 people, I thought that the tragedy might not be for naught. There was a huge amount of media coverage focusing not only on the lives lost and the plight of the garment workers, but on the owners of Rana Plaza, the government(s) that turned a blind eye and the apparel manufacturers around the world that sourced their garments there. However, one year later, I am disappointed by the lack of accountability and that no real change has taken place.

In the immediate aftermath, companies were keen to tell us how committed they were to making sure that families would be compensated and that steps would be taken to ensure that working conditions would be made safer. Many apparel manufacturers have done nothing on either of these issues.

The Rana Plaza Trust Fund was set up to ensure that families and individuals affected by the collapsed factory would receive financial compensation.  According to the Clean Clothes Campaign
to date just 1/3 of the funds needed have been contributed and only half of all brands associated with factories in the collapsed building have made any contribution.  On a positive note, Loblaw, owner of Joe Fresh, is one of the largest donors.
The second major initiative was the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Intended to provide  factory inspections and enforce safer working conditions, it got off to a slow and rocky start. As reported by the Financial Times, ‘ multinationals still cannot agree how to prevent future disasters. As a result they have splintered into two rival five year initiatives doing their own inspections: the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, whose 150-plus corporate signatories are mostly European; and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, whose 26 companies are North American.   They have agreed common standards on what constitutes a safe factory, but diverge in their approaches to financing, accountability and legal liability. The biggest distinction is that the Accord companies – including Tesco, Primark, Hennes & Mauritz and Zara-owner Inditex – have cosigned their agreement with 10 labour unions, which can challenge them for not living up to their commitments. The Alliance – whose members include Walmart, Target, Macy’s and GAP – has no union signatories; companies that do not live up to their commitments can be kicked out by their peers.’
A recent report by Transparency International concludes ‘The pace of factory inspection by buyers and their forums as well as by the government is comparatively slow and in some cases did not represent desired level of transparency. Some inspectors representing buyers are subject to risk of conflict of interest.’  
If you are despairing, there is a ray of light to be found. New York University’s Stern School has produced a report  Business as usual is not an option. It offers a 3 pronged approach to solving issues not just in Bangladesh, although that is the focus of the report, but in all of the global supply chain. In a section called The Way Forward, recommendations are made for the business community, government and the international donor community. Its practical and untainted by corporate greenwashing.
Something to think about next time you are buying a 9.99 t shirt.  


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