Labour Group Calls for Upgrade and Implementation of Health and Safety
Standards in the Bangladesh Textile Sector
Condemns the Garib & Garib Sweater Factory Fire Case that Killed
Karachi/ Dhaka, March 03, 2010: The South Asia Alliance of Poverty
Eradication, supported calls for immediate action by the Bangladesh
Government and international textile retail chains to revisit health
and safety regulations following a fatal factory fire in the country
that killed 21 workers and injured 50 others.
Condemning the poor health and safety measures that led to the deaths
of 21 workers after fire broke out at the Garib & Garib Sweater
Factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh late last month, the SAAPE Labour Thematic
Group called for an end to operations standards that compromise the
safety and wellbeing of workers at textile factories.
According to media reports, the fire, seemingly caused by an electrical
short circuit in the seven storey building, started in the morning
on February 25, trapping workers as it spread. Witnesses reported
that the emergency exits were blocked and fire extinguishers were
either missing or were out of order. Firemen had to cut the window
grills to rescue the trapped workers. However, by then 21 lives were
lost while several workers suffered from serious burn injuries.
“Bangladesh’s export-based textile sector not only delivers on the
uplift of the country’s economy, it makes a valuable contribution
to the global textile network in terms of quality production at competitive
rates,” said Zulfiqar Shah Joint Director at Pakistan Institute of
Labour Education and Research, Karachi and Dr. Wajid ul Islam, Director
at Bangladesh Trade Union Centre in Dhaka, both representing the SAAPE
Labour Group, in a press statement issued here on Wednesday. “In this
regard, international buyers of Bangladesh textile products have as
much of an obligation to emphasize on the adherence to international
standards for health and safety, as the country’s government does.
There is no reason why workers be made to sacrifice their wellbeing
and even their lives for the profit-maximization objective of factory
owners and international buyers.”
For a country that has a global reputation for its textile production,
Bangladesh has a poor health and safety record. Labour involved in
the textile sector work in compromised set ups with little regard
to emergency as well as other measures important to ensure their protection.
Incidents of fire and building collapse are common. According to a
report by the Clean Clothes Campaign, at the start of the millennium
alone, nine similar incidents had killed 273 workers at various factory
premises in Bangladesh. A culture of impunity and corruption further
denies justice to the victims who are neither assisted with investigation
nor are adequately compensated for their loss or injuries.
The Garib & Garib Sweater Factory case is another indication of
the failure of state apparatus and international networks to ensure
adherence to basic labour rights and corporate codes of conduct by
the export-based textile sector in Bangladesh. Suppression of trade
union activities and the indifference of international brands to monitor
and ensure implementation of health and safety standards have undermined
workers struggle to a secure and healthy work environment. “At the
end of the day no economy, or international retail set up could be
expected to thrive on the back of weak labour regulations and a corrupt
and an inefficient system supporting violations of labour rights,”
said the SAAPE Press Brief.
SAAPE labour group appealed to the international human rights organizations
and consumers’ associations in the north to take note of the brands
which, in a bid to buy cheap goods from third world countries particularly
in South Asia, compromise on labour standards and hire vendors without
proper checks and balances.
The SAAPE Labour Group also supported demands for a credible judicial
inquiry of the incident and arrest of the culprits guilty of neglect
of health and safety, and emergency regulations. It called for payment
of compensation to the relatives of dead workers and provision of
medical treatment and necessary compensation for the injured workers.