UN agency welcomes new safety agreement between garment industry and Bangladeshi workers

Hundreds people lost their lives when an eight-story building outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed on 24 April, 2013, trapping thousands of mostly garment workers inside. Photo: IRIN

14 May 2013 – The United Nations labour agency today welcomed an agreement signed by international fashion brands and retailers, and trade unions to prevent workplace disasters.

“The need for urgent improvement in workplace safety requires the industry to work together to implement a scalable and transparent plan of action that supports the vital role of Government and employer and worker organizations in Bangladesh,” the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a news release.

The signatories to the Accord on Building and Fire Safety commit “to the goal of a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi Ready Made Garment (RMG) industry in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures” according to the ILO website.

The companies that sign on, such as Zara and H&M, have 45 days from the signing to develop and agree on an implementation plan to monitor their textile production in Bangladesh.

The Accord comes as thousands gathered today in the rubble of the Rana Plaza garment factory complex on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka to pray for the hundreds of people killed and injured when the building collapsed last month.

A 2002 Governing Body Report showed that at that time there was one labour inspector for one million workers in Bangladesh, ILO spokesperson Hans von Rohland told journalists today in Geneva. A comparable country in that region was Malaysia which had a ratio of one inspector to every five thousand workers.

In the press briefing, Mr. von Rohland welcomed the Accord process but that it was only a “first step” in the right direction. The ILO was seeking also to strengthen labour inspection in Bangladesh to strengthen social dialogue between the social partners and the dialogue.

“Now there was a need to kick-start the process of beginning concrete projects in labour inspection and on social dialogue,” he said.

In the statement, ILO said it stands ready to provide appropriate support to this initiative in response to the requests of the signatory parties, to help ensure effective implementation and coordination with national organizations.

The agency added that it is also actively working to realize the goals agreed by the Government, garment industry and trade unions during a recent high-level ILO visit to the country, including the critical need to reform the country's labour law to bring it in line with international norms.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, and exchanged views on the current situation in Bangladesh.

The Secretary-General again expressed his condolences to the Government and the people of Bangladesh for the loss of life and suffering.

Mr. Ban stressed the critical importance for the political leaders of Bangladesh to engage in constructive dialogue, with a view to defusing tensions and resolving differences, including on governance arrangements during the upcoming election period.

He also reiterated his increasing concern about the recent wave of violence and underlined the need for all concerned to respect the law and express their views peacefully.


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