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How to avoid another clothing factory collapse

Photo: Abir Abdullah/EPA

The recent news of a factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh is a shocking reminder of the unsafe conditions facing millions of workers across Asia. Unfortunately, hazardous and sometimes deadly conditions remain commonplace in the garment industry, alongside very low wages and long working hours.

This tragedy highlights that companies sourcing from Bangladesh are not doing enough to ensure that workers are safe making their products. Over the last decade hundreds of men and women have died in workplace fires in Bangladesh – just last November, more than a hundred mostly women workers died in a garment factory fire in Bangladesh.

Australian companies often conduct audits and have codes of conduct for their suppliers, but these are not enough. International labour rights organisations together with Bangladeshi groups have developed an international Fire and Building Safety agreement. These measures have the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers, by providing for independent inspections of supplier factories, public reporting, training and mandatory repairs and renovations.  It includes a central role for workers and unions in both oversight and implementation including the establishment of worker-led safety committees, and also takes into account the need for supplier contracts with sufficient financing and adequate pricing, and a binding contract to make these commitments enforceable.

Cotton On, Target, Kmart and Big W are sourcing from Bangladesh, but one of the big problems is that we don’t know exactly how many factories there are and where they are. It is important that all garment companies publish lists of all their supplier factories so that NGOs and unions visit these work-sites and independently verify conditions for workers.

What you can do:

Visit the Facebook pages of Australian companies known to source their garments from Bangladesh, asking them to ensure decent conditions for the workers making their clothes by signing on to the Fire Safety Agreement. Companies include:

What could you say?

I care about the working conditions of the people who make your products. In light of the tragic building collapse in Bangladesh, I ask that your company sign on to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which aims to improve health and safety conditions for workers in that country.