UN human rights chief welcomes signing of Bangladesh work safety accord by major companies

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

17 May 2013 – The United Nations human rights chief today welcomed the decision of dozens of international companies to sign on to an fire-and-safety agreement in the aftermath of the deadly factory collapse in Bangladesh, while calling for additional actions to overhaul the entire garment sector.

“By the midnight deadline on 15 May, 37 companies including major retailers in Europe such as Inditex, Carrefour and H&M, had signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.

“We welcome the fact that dozens of international companies have made a legal commitment to improve safety in Bangladesh’s garment factories, in the wake of last month’s building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people,” Mr. Colville added, calling the agreement “important and in many ways unprecedented.”

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 have 45 days from the signing to develop and agree on an implementation plan to monitor their textile production in Bangladesh.

Some major retailers, including Walmart and other companies in the United States, have chosen to abstain from the agreement and inspect the factories that supply its stores themselves.

“The spotlight will be on them to ensure they fulfil their pledges,” said Mr. Colville.

Speaking on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioners for Human Rights (OHCHR), Mr. Colville said measures taken so far may mark “a turning point” in the history of Bangladesh’s clothing industry but should only be a beginning.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay is calling for swift action to empower trade unions and overhaul the garment sector, with a far more stringent approach to oversight and inspection.

“The world is now saying enough is enough, but it took the deaths of at least 1,127 of the largely female workforce crammed into five factories in the Rana Plaza to make this happen,” Mr. Colville said. “The best way to honour the victims is to ensure such a tragedy never happens again – in any industry anywhere.

“This issue does not just concern Bangladesh,” he stressed.

The Guiding Principles, agreed to by the UN two years ago, outline how States and businesses should implement the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework to better manage business and human rights challenges.

The framework is based on three pillars – the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means avoiding infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts that occur; and greater access by victims to effective remedy, both judicial and non-judicial.

“While the spotlight has been on the international brands sourcing from Bangladesh, this should not detract from the duties and responsibilities of Governments and factories to prevent this kind of disaster happening, and to ensure redress and accountability when they do,” Mr. Colville said.


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