47_G15_Arena

Global Issue 15

shift power back to the workers who have not been able to assert their own interests. But all the technology in the world won’t reach its potential if workers are not able to employ internationally recognised rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining – rights that are sharply limited in China and Bangladesh, the two largest garment-producing countries. Fourth, while attention tends to fi x on individual brands, collaboration is the only way to achieve systemic change. The Better Work programme, a joint effort of the International Labour Organisation and the International Finance Corporation, has had signifi cant successes in countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam by bringing together governments, buyers and suppliers, and trade unions to establish consistent, systematic improvements through joint training and incentives. It is much easier to take a system-wide approach by focusing on individual countries and inviting all stakeholders to the table. And while it is early days, the Bangladesh Accord – signed by many large retailers and supported by governments and trade unions – also holds promise. Each of these ideas has the potential to improve workers’ lives, health and dignity, while creating a stable, sustainable supply chain. But real progress will happen only when all of them are pursued together. For the past two decades, the garment industry has created employment opportunities for workers, lower prices for consumers and profi ts for manufacturers and retailers. These things are all valuable. But too often, workers have paid the price of these benefi ts – sometimes with life and limb. The tragedy at Rana Plaza is one we cannot allow to have happen again. It’s time to take the steps we know will achieve real change. Arena Garment Workers Aron Cramer is president and CEO of BSR, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability. He is also co-author of the book Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-Changing World Deadly conditions of Asia’s clothing factories Bangladesh is the world’s biggest exporter of garment products after China. The country earns about US$20 billion from exports – roughly 80 per cent of the country’s export earnings. On 24 of April 2013, an eight-storey building in the Savar sub-district in the Greater Dhaka Area – containing a bank, clothing factories and several shops – collapsed. Following the discovery of cracks in the building, the bank and the shops on the lower fl oors had closed immediately, but the warnings were ignored by the garment-producing companies. The incident is the deadliest garment factory disaster in history, with a death toll of 1,127 workers, and a further 2,500 injured. The reason for the collapse is still not known, but has been attributed to the swampy ground on which the building was constructed, cheap building materials, extra fl oors that were illegally added and the building having not been originally designed to handle the vibration of heavy machinery. The incident – which follows on from numerous other incidents in the country over the last decade – has prompted international workers’ associations such as UNI and IndustriALL Global Union to pressure Western retailers into signing a legally binding agreement that will commit them to measures such as independent building and fi re safety inspections. The agreement has already been signed by major European brands, such as H&M, Zara, Marks & Spencer, Abercrombie and Fitch, and PVH. Jacques Human December 2012: A fi re in a clothing factory in Guandong Province in China, started by a disgruntled former employee, kills 14 people May 2013: A ceiling collapses at Wing Star shoe factory in Kapong Speu district, Cambodia, killing two workers and injuring at least seven others November 2012: A seven-storey factory fi re at Tasreen Fashions, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, kills at least 112 people September 2012: A fi re at the Ali Enterprises garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan, kills 289 people January 1975: A fi re in a wig factory in Manila, Philappines, kills 42 and injures 79 global thi rd quar ter 2013 www.global -br ief ing.org l 47 Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights


Global Issue 15
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