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Bangladeshi Garment Workers Need Our Help
By Michael Schweibinz

Bangladesh is the world’s second largest exporter of apparel after China. A fire on October 8, 2013 at a garment factory just outside the capital city, Dhaka, killed ten people. It’s the latest in a series of garment manufacturing catastrophes that have killed more than one thousand workers in the past year alone. And it’s another clear signal that foreign retailers need to take steps to ensure the factories in their garment supply chain are safe places to work.

Each of these disasters could have been prevented according to the Human Rights Watch. The latest fire took place at Aswad Composite Mills which supplies fabrics for major American and European retailers including Walmart, the Gap, American Eagle, H&M, and Lacoste. One client, Primark did inspect the factory, and said they noticed safety violations at the factory before the fire, but no action was taken. Other companies admit that they did not have the factory inspected because they had no direct connection with it.

“Bangladeshi workers continue to die while making cheap clothes for Western brands,” said Brad Adams, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “Though the retailers have belatedly promised to help improve safety conditions in the factories making their garments, they need to commit to end safety violations throughout their supply chains or the whole process will be fatally flawed.”

After the structural collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in April 2013 which killed over 1,100 workers, some foreign retailers supplied by Bangladeshi factories have pledged to push for the improvement of fire and building safety standards. Reform initiatives including The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh oblige firms to take action about safety violations when they are uncovered. The accord launched its own website where consumers can begin to educate themselves about the need to take a stand in the garment industry conflict.

Unfortunately, these commitments did not extend to the subcontractors and suppliers less directly affiliated with the companies that play a part in the supply chain—suppliers like Aswad. The Government of Bangladesh and the garment industry should extend their factory safety programs to the next level of production in order to protect their workers’ most basic human rights.

“It is encouraging that more retailers are finally beginning to accept the principle that they have responsibilities up and down the supply chain in Bangladesh,” Adams said. “But it is vitally important they now follow this up with action on the ground, so that all factories involved in making their clothes are safe places to work.”

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Posted: December 9, 2013