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17 May 2013 | Andy Allen
An agreement has been made between 24 garment and retail brands sourcing from Bangladesh including Primark and H&M to sign up to the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Act, an agreement which it is hoped will improve safety conditions for workers in the country's garment and textile factories.
Global union IndustriALL, which has led negotiations, said it expected more clothing brands would sign the agreement which obliges signatories to help strengthen workers' rights and training and to make a financial commitment relative to the size of their business in Bangladesh.
Other signatories include Inditex, owner of Zara and Massimo Dutti, PVH - which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein - C&A, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Mothercare, Next and Marks & Spencer.
IndustriALL said the accord would involve a coordinated system of inspections, training and financial commitments from retailers, as well as giving workers the power to refuse dangerous work.
Ruth Tanner, campaigns and policy director at anti-poverty charity War on Want, said: “This is a crucial victory in the fight for companies to take responsibility for the workers who make our clothes.”
Meanwhile, the TUC has dismissed claims that paying a substantially higher wage to Bangladeshi textile workers would impose unacceptable costs on Western consumers.
As the death toll in the in the wake of the Rana Plaza Bangladesh textile factory disaster rose above 1,000 workers, the trade union said the reason costs are cut and wages are low in the Bangladesh textile industry has nothing to do with cash-strapped consumers demanding cheap clothes.
Using figures supplied by textile workers’ unions in Bangladesh, the TUC has calculated doubling the wages of a Dhaka textile worker would add just 2p to the cost of a t-shirt bought in any store on the UK high street.
The TUC says Bangladeshi unions’ figures show that workers there are usually paid 12p per half dozen t-shirts they are expected to make every hour. As they work around 200 hours a month, this works out at roughly 2p for every t-shirt.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It isn’t UK consumers, trying to make their wages stretch further as their living standards take a hit, who are to blame for life and labour being cheap in Bangladesh.
“It’s the multinational companies – the brands, retailers and manufacturers who are all well-known names on our high streets – who bear the responsibility. They are the ones who must change their behaviour and encourage their overseas suppliers to pay higher wages and improve working conditions, not UK consumers.”
The union has launched a web page where consumers can lobby the Bangladeshi government to take action regarding pay and safety at http://action.goingtowork.org.uk/page/content/bangladesh