October 31, 2017 / 1:25 PM / 2 months ago

Bangladesh boosts protections for garment workers, says trade union

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bangladesh will extend an agreement to protect garment workers drawn up in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster and embed it into national regulations, promising more stringent safety checks for its 4 million apparel workers, a labor union said.

Poor working conditions and low wages have long been a concern in Bangladesh’s garment industry, which suffered one of the worst industrial accidents in 2013, when more than 1,100 people were killed in the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex.

The Bangladesh Accord is a legally-binding agreement between global brands and trade unions to establish a fire and safety programme for the country’s $28 billion a year textile industry.

The accord runs to May 2018, but the government has agreed for it to continue beyond that date until a national regulatory body is ready to take over monitoring, a trade union said Tuesday.

“A goal of the accord has always been to transition to a credible regulatory regime by the Bangladeshi government,” said Christy Hoffman, Deputy General Secretary of Uni Global Union.

“The talks with the government show that it recognizes the importance of a safe ready-made garment industry, and we will continue to work with regulators to help enhance their capacity.”

The new agreement was reached on Oct. 19 between brands, trade unions, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the U.N.’s International Labour Organisation and the Bangladeshi government, said a statement from the Accord.

Under the accord, more than 118,500 fire, electrical and structural hazards have been identified at 1,800 factories which supply at least 200 brands. [nL8N1MS2UR]

Boiler room inspections will be included in the programme following concerns after a blast in July killed 10 workers.[nL3N1JV38F]

“At present, we are working out how we can fund the inspections, remediation and technical expertise needed,” Hoffman said.

The programme will also establish safety committees on factory floors as mandated by law to ensure better monitoring of safety features, Hoffman said.

Earlier this month, trade unions welcomed a ruling allowing complaints to proceed against two global fashion brands for allegedly violating the Bangladesh Accord. The cases will be the first under the accord to be judged by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague. [nL8N1MS2UR]

Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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