Bangladeshi Industry-Workers’ Rights & Corporation Agreements and Initiatives

Lorena Martinez – Blog Post #3

The gap between the buildings is where the Rana Plaza stood until a few months ago. Photo Credit: Julie McCarthy/NPR

The gap between the buildings is where the Rana Plaza stood until a few months ago.
Photo Credit: Julie McCarthy/NPR

On April 24th, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,000 people in the building. Two months later, a couple of the survivors spoke up about their current situations and what the government has offered them in compensation.

Rebecca Khatun, a worker at Rana Plaza, lies in a hospital bed. She lost her left leg and right foot in the collapse, which also killed five members of her family.  Photo Credit: Julie McCarthy/NPR

Rebecca Khatun, a worker at Rana Plaza, lies in a hospital bed. She lost her left leg and right foot in the collapse, which also killed five members of her family.
Photo Credit: Julie McCarthy/NPR

One survivor, 22-year-old Rebecca Khatun lost her left leg, right foot, and most devastatingly, 5 family members (including her mother and grandmother) that worked in the building alongside her. Khatun recalls being apprehensive about entering the building the day of the collapse due to large cracks seen on the building the day before. However, her manager told her that if she did not enter, she would not be paid for the day and even threatened Khatun with the loss of her job, so she and her family entered and began to work. Khatun received a mere $120 and had her medical expenses paid for as compensation. Additionally, the government has promised those that were critically injured in the collapse a monetary compensation of 1 million taka ($12,000 USD). This is a large sum of money compared to the pathetic minimum wage of $37 a month for garment workers in Bangladesh. (That’s less than $10 a week!)

The Rana Plaza collapse prompted workers’ rights activists to hold Western retailers and consumers accountable (through their economic wealth) for ensuring that Bangladesh’s 4 million garment workers receive greater wages and safer working conditions. “Some 70 retailers, mostly European, signed an agreement this week to conduct independent inspections of factories and to finance fire and safety upgrades,” (McCarthy) which is great news for Bangladeshi garment workers. However, Walmart and Gap refused to sign the agreement noting that it gives unions too much control. Instead, these two companies, along side 15 other North American retailers, created their own initiative regarding Bangladeshi industry-workers called The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. This “alliance” sets a five-year binding initiative that holds these corporations accountable for safe working conditions, worker training, among other workers’ rights. Along with this new accountability, the companies have noted that they will be making $110 million available in the form of loans so as to ensure that the workers’ rights are met.

Though this initiative may seem like a good thing, labor rights watchdogs, the Workers Rights Consortium, and the International Labor Rights Forum are extremely apprehensive about this initiative because workers’ rights representatives were not made a part of the agreement and have no say in what the alliance does. Additionally, although the companies have made the large amount of money available, there is currently no way to see if any of the companies taking part will actually follow though.

Labor Rights watchdogs say this initiative by Walmart and Gap is bogus because it is company-controlled, it imposes no obligation to the companies that are a part of it to monetarily contribute to the renovation or building of current and/or new factories, and the members have little obligations concerning workers’ rights.
As we saw in the documentary The Corporation, large corporations such as Walmart and Gap have limited liability under the law and are legally bound to put their bottom line before greater good. Because of this, corporations have continuously been allowed to do whatever is best for them and their profit margin, even if it means that they participate in the exploitation of (desperate) workers in poor countries. By doing so and not working toward creating a more fair and equal work environment for their industry-workers, corporations such as Walmart and those included in The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, are only working toward increasing the disparity between the very rich and the very poor. They are taking advantage of the lower classes, often in poor/third world countries, merely to benefit themselves by reducing their costs of production and ensuring that their wealth is kept at the top. By ensuring that their wealth is kept at the top, they are not helping out the lower classes rise out of their economic disparity because they are not contributing the economic cycle by purchasing goods and services, (which would in turn allow some of the money to get back to the workers providing the services) or by ensuring that their industry workers receive fair wages for the work they are doing.
It seems as though the members of The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety have little regard for workers’ rights and safety. They seem more concerned with keeping their companies as profitable as possible, but only time will tell if they actually go through with their five-year plan in an effective manner.

McCarthy, Julie. “Bangladesh Collapse: The Garment Workers Who Survived.” NPR. NPR, 10 July 2013. Web. 10 July 2013. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/07/10/200644781/Bangladesh-Collapse-The-Garment-Workers-Who-Survived>.

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