Fight together for a Safe and Secure South Asian Workplace: The fire at Tazreen Fashions factory at the Savar neighbourhood in Dhaka killed at least 112 apparel workers late on Saturday, 24 November less than three months after the fire at the Karachi factory that killed over 300 workers. The fire at Tazreen Fashions unit began on the ground floor, spreading rapidly, trapping those on the higher floors of the 9-story building. The building flouted all fire-safety norms and hence workers died due to asphyxiation and burns, unable to leave the building. There were no exterior fire escapes, and many died after jumping from the upper floors to escape the flames. Most of these workers were unable to escape due to inadequate access and the complete lack of emergency and fire exits. The Tazreen fire is the latest in a series of deadly fires at garment factories in Bangladesh that have claimed the lives of thousands of workers, with official figures being more than 700 workers, in the last five years.
Bangladesh had ratified the ILO Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No 81) in 1972 under which, the government is bound to maintain a system of labour inspection in industrial workplaces. This Convention contains binding legal provisions relating to conditions of work and the protection of workers, including industrial safety and health that is enforceable by labour inspectors. But fires in garment factories, many of which are in the garment industry that are part of the global supply chain, alone have claimed thousands of lives in the last 5 years in Bangladesh. This is not coincidental but is closely linked to the nature of the supply chain of this industry wherein capital is continually searching for areas of low labour costs and other related costs of production which includes costs for ensuring safety standards, for shifting production in order to keep the profit margins soaring. Hence lax implementation of even basic labour laws, especially those relating to safety regulations, is critical for location of industry. The fire at the Tazreen Fashion Ltd., a unit of the Tuba Group, is a clear example of this as reports reveal that Tuba Group's branded buyers include Walmart (Faded Glory), Sean Combs (ENYCE), Sears, C &A, Dickies, KiK, Soffe.
In March 2012, PVH Corp, whose brands include Calvin Klein, Nautica and Timberland, was forced to sign a binding agreement with trade unions and several labour rights organizations committing to 1. Allow fire safety inspections led by people outside the apparel industry, with inspection reports made public; 2. the brand will require all their suppliers in Bangladesh to open themselves to inspection, and, most importantly, to eliminate any fire hazards the inspections uncover and make their factories safe. Brands cannot continue doing business with any supplier that refuses to make necessary repairs. Also, under the agreement, the brands are committed to pay prices to suppliers that make it feasible for the suppliers to make the necessary repairs; 3. The brand must require suppliers to accept worker-led health and safety committees in every factory, so that workers will play a direct role in protecting themselves and their fellow workers. PVH was one of a group of US brands and retailers sourcing from the That's It Sportswear factory in which 29 workers were killed and several injured in a factory fire in December 2010. This agreement with a global brand was an important step in establishing responsibility of global brands in ensuring safety standards at their sourcing facilities which is critical in deciding sourcing location but unfortunately this agreement has not been adopted by other brands and even its implementation by PVH is not yet been tested.
The NTUI urges the trade unions across the subcontinent to come together to ensure that governments in South Asia arrive at a common minimum framework for labour laws including industrial safety and wages so as to prevent the movement of capital across borders in search of cheap labour and lax regulation and also to build a campaign to hold global apparel brands responsible for maintenance of safety standards at their sourcing facilities.
We stand in solidarity with the workers and the families of the deceased workers and support the demand of Bangladeshi trade unions to hold the employer criminally liable of homicide and take action against the Labour Department and other government departments that failed to ensure the safety of these workers. The NTUI also calls for the Ratification of the ILO Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health and Convention 187 of Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health by all countries in the sub-continent that have seen several such incidents of fire at workplaces leading to innumerable loss of lives.
Let us together fight to ensure a safe and secure South Asian Work place!