8 May 2013 A United Nations expert group today urged global clothing brands to work with Bangladesh, international organizations and civil society to improve working conditions in the country’s garment sector, following the collapse last month of a factory that left hundreds dead and wounded.
“The international brands sourcing from Bangladesh have a responsibility to conduct human rights due diligence to identify and address their own impacts on human rights,” said Pavel Sulyandziga, who currently heads the five-strong UN Working Group on business and human rights.
“If they are linked with negative impacts on human rights through their suppliers, they have the responsibility to exercise their leverage as buyers to try to effect change.”
Last month, the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital, killing more than 780 people, mostly female workers. The garment industry employs some 3-5 million workers in the country.
“International clothing supply chains are increasingly complex and addressing systemic issues is not an easy task, but the scale of the efforts must be commensurate with the challenge,” Mr. Sulyandziga said.
The expert noted that several of the factories operating in the building had reportedly been audited in the past. However, these audits either overlooked or excluded altogether the structural problems with the building.
The Working Group stressed that the Government of Bangladesh has the duty to protect human rights from violations by business actors, and that it must take action to ensure a thorough investigation of how the affected factories were allowed to operate, bring those responsible to account, ensure reparations for victims, and take strong action to improve protection for workers’ rights.
“We strongly urge international clothing brands sourcing from Bangladesh to address human rights risks in their supply chains with the involvement of workers, other relevant stakeholders, and human rights experts, and to share publicly what they are doing to mitigate their risks,” Mr. Sulyandziga said.
He urged brands to address how buyer behaviour and pricing strategies may prevent investments in safer factories and living wages for workers, and called on the international garment sector to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
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