Final wake up call for the garment sector

Fatal collapse in Dhaka garment factory

Another fatal incident in the Bangladesh’ garment sector: 3000 people were in the building when it collapsed, most of them women who dedicate their lives to making our clothing. The owner of the poorly constructed building did not have the proper building consent from the government, and moreover illegally added 3 stories. The building clearly was not fit for its current use, housing 5 garmenting factories full of machines and workers. The result: more than 350 people died while there are still many missing.  Unacceptable, but unfortunately not the only case of inadequate factory buildings in the Bangladesh garment sector.

Unsafe buildings one out of many problems

Dangerous constructions are however not the only problem in the textile industry: fires, excessive working hours, low wages, water depletion and pollution are issues common to the sector. This disaster reached the Western newspapers because of its scale. However, similar violations of Human Rights on a smaller scale take place on a daily basis. The fact that workers in Bangladesh are poorly organised makes them vulnerable. The trade unions are weak and the legislative requirements for worker representation committees are poorly implemented. One of the root causes is the constant drive to fast and cheap fashion: The price for the product is low and the real costs are being paid by the workers and communities in Bangladesh. There is not a single culprit that can be pointed at; it’s a complex interrelated system that is being kept alive by factory owners, the local authorities, brands, retailers and consumers.

Boycot “made in Bangladesh” doesn’t help

Is the solution to boycott garments from Bangladesh? Definitely not! We should not forget that due the growth of the sector in the past 15 years, millions of young women have found a job and are slowly crawling out of extreme poverty. A boycott would not help them. Yet a radical change is necessary. The solutions from the past haven’t worked and will not work. They are based on single issue management, compliance driven certification systems and initiated by one or few stakeholders. It’s time for a radical change now, all parties involved must take their responsibility.

Protect, respect and remedy

In the language of John Ruggie (Human Rights professor at Harvard University): the authorities should protect the Human Rights of their citizens by legislation and enforcement, the private sector (factory owners, agents and brands and retailers) should respect Human Rights. Another major challenge is the third aspect of his framework: remedy of the problems. All stakeholders should join hands to find a solution: brands and retailers collectively, factory owners and the government. And last but not least the workers should be heard. Local needs and priorities should be taken into account leading to local ownership of the process.

Invitation to cooperate on a solution

Our compassion is with the families of the victims. Let’s hope that this horrific case will finally set the alarm. We expect the concerned parties to recognize the problems and take on the responsibility in compensating the victims in Dhaka. Equally important, it’s about time to work on a fundamental solution. Solidaridad believes that the change has to come from in the market space, starting with brands and retailers and their suppliers. We like to invite them and other stakeholders, to join us in finding the much needed collaborative approach based on shared values and with a commitment to a long term process.