05 June 2006 | Paul Snell
Violent protests by garment workers in Bangladesh over low wages and long working hours resulted in the deaths of at least two workers last week.
Hundreds more were injured in the fracas and 200 factories were torched leading to numerous arrests in several days of violence.
This week a delegation from the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) is visiting the area to investigate the source of the trouble.
The team is made up of ETI chairman Alan Roberts, Neil Kearney, general secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF), and representatives from clothing retailers Gap and Inditex, the parent company of Spanish fashion chain Zara.
A number of retail members of the ETI, including Asda, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Gap and Zara, rely on supplies from Bangladesh. The garment industry accounts for 68 per cent of the country's exports.
The group is meeting with local unions, manufacturing associations, NGOs and the government.
In a statement Roberts said: "Intense delivery pressures on managers and supervisers have apparently resulted in abusive behaviour towards workers. We must make sure that these recent events do not undermine the great efforts being made by ETI and others to help stabilise the industry."
Since the EU and the US reintroduced limitations on garment exports from China in May 2005, Bangladeshi factories have experienced a huge increase in orders. The ITGLWF said this pressure has led to workers being forced to work extra hours, often not being paid appropriately.