In one of the most devastating fire accidents in the history of apparel industry of Bangladesh at least 112 workers are feared killed during the last weekend. This is not the first incident in Bangladesh. Since 2005 over 700 garment workers have been killed in unsafe workplaces. The apparel retailers in the west are once again on a denial mode and trying whatever it takes to shrug the responsibility off their shoulders.
The recent fire is reported to have occurred in the plant of Tazreen Fashions and it is being alleged that the multi-storeyed building lacked emergency fire exits, as a result of which a significant number of deaths have occurred in a bid to jump out from the windows. Notably Bangladesh is the world's second largest apparel exporter after China yet so neglected when it comes to safety procedures. This incident is a clarion call for the apparel retailers who source from Bangladesh to finally take cognizance of the serious lapses in occupational health and safety protocols at the garment manufacturing factories that they source from.
It is yet to be ascertained by the authorities if any underage garment worker was killed or injured in this fire accident.
Lamenting over the never ending fire accidents at the garment factories of Bangladesh, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson Global March Against Child Labour said, “Garment workers’ safety seems to be of nobody’s concern. Neither the apparel retailers take proper remedial or pre-emptive actions to ensure that such untoward incidences do not occur at their sourcing hubs, nor does the Government agencies in Bangladesh wake up to assume their responsibilities for ensuring decent working conditions and basic safety for the workers”. Mr. Satyarthi asserted that in spite of multi-billion dollars being spent by corporate houses on private auditing to scrutinize the global supply chains on various parameters like respect for human rights, decent working conditions, occupational health and safety, etc, such ghastly incidents have continued to occur. .
All that the retailers retort to in such cases is severing ties with the supplier(s) subcontracting work to such factories where accidents occur or human rights’ violation is detected. It has been observed several times in the past that the retailers in a knee jerk reaction snapped business ties with suppliers where child labourers were found. This results in conditions even worse for the children when the manufacturing units are abruptly shut. With no rehabilitation plans for child labourers in place and the state not making enough efforts to rehabilitate them, children are left on streets to fend for themselves and are exposed to several other perils. Is this not running away from responsibilities? Continuous and sustainable engagement of the apparel buyers with suppliers for improving working conditions in the entire supply chain with the help of other stakeholders at field level in the long term will yield results in the best interest of all.
Garment workers work at very low remunerations in abysmally poor conditions for producing garments that are sold at a fortune in the high streets of buyer countries. Global March Against Child Labour therefore appeals to consumers of the apparels to stand up for the rights of workers and start exerting pressure on apparel business houses to assume corporate social responsibility in true spirit and substance and clean up their supply chains. With the Christmas season on the anvil, Global March calls upon the consumers to make a resolution for enquiring from the retailer companies if the apparels that they were purchasing have been produced ethically. After all, consumers would certainly not want their hard earned money to be fuelling human rights violations in the other part of the world.