Bangladesh after Rana Plaza: safety improvements yes, but trade unions rights under threat
05 April 2017
Last week I visited Dhaka, Bangladesh, with other MEPs from the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament. When the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed four years ago this month, leaving 1129 dead and 2,500 injured, a spotlight was shone on the appalling working conditions of the people - mainly women - who make many of our clothes. Europe is Bangladesh's biggest market for textiles, thanks to an agreement that gives the country duty free access to EU markets, and Britain the largest EU importer. Many household name retailers source their clothes from Rana Plaza and after the disaster we were promised "never again" as manufacturers and retailers promised to clean up their act. The aim of our visit was to see whether that promise has been delivered and if the lessons learned could be translated to other countries which are developing their textile sector.
What we found on the ground was a mixed picture. Certainly, safety at factories has improved and some employers are providing better conditions such as healthcare, better housing, maternity leave and crèches. But there are still problems. Particularly in relation to labour and trade union rights. Last June, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) singled Bangladesh out for criticism and asked for progress in four critical areas on labour rights. But labour unrest in the Ashulia district in December, leading to a government clampdown on trade unions including arrests and harassment, has prompted international criticism and led MEPs to ask for change. Now the European Commission is asking Bangladesh to implement the legal changes suggested by the ILO or face an investigation, which could, if Bangladesh fails to act, jeopardise the agreement on duty free access to EU markets. I very much hope the Bangladesh government will honour its ILO obligations.
But it's not just Bangladesh that has to change. Our retail industry's business model - which is all too often about driving down prices with little regard for the lives of those making our clothes - has to change too. Bangladeshi manufacturers also need to get fair prices and long term contracts to make their companies more sustainable and in turn they must pay better wages and improve working conditions. That is why Labour MEPs and colleagues from the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament are pushing for a new EU initiative to get fairness right down the textile supply chain.
The European Commission will now bring forward a proposal later this month - we want to make sure it delivers real benefits to the people we met in Bangladesh and other countries.
Please share and support this initiative - there's lots consumers can do to help too - find out more via: Clean Clothes Campaign, Fashion Revolution, Labour Behind the Label, Fair Wear Foundation among others