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Need for more accountability on worker’s safety in South Asia

"The 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh and the 2012 factory fire in Pakistan city kick started a series of litigation processes, public awareness campaigns and safety inspections kick-started in the aftermath of the two fatal incidents. Although some compensation was paid to the victims' families, but did these tragedies succeed in teaching a lesson to European companies, consumers? Interestingly a Bangladeshi court recently decided to evict European safety inspectors from its factories. This group of inspectors comprising over 200 firms — including global clothing giants such as H&M and Zara-owner Inditex —are signatories to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, sealed after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013."

 

Need for more accountability on workers safety in South Asia 002The 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh and the 2012 factory fire in Pakistan city kick started a series of litigation processes, public awareness campaigns and safety inspections kick-started in the aftermath of the two fatal incidents. Although some compensation was paid to the victims' families, but did these tragedies succeed in teaching a lesson to European companies, consumers?

Eviction impacts ties and economy

Interestingly a Bangladeshi court recently decided to evict European safety inspectors from its factories. This group of inspectors comprising over 200 firms — including global clothing giants such as H&M and Zara-owner Inditex —are signatories to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, sealed after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013.

Bangladesh government established a national regulatory body to take over Accord’s work. In May, a Bangladesh court ordered the European safety inspectors to halt operations following a petition filed by a local readymade garment supplier against the agreement. The European inspectors' inability to inspect factories is likely to result in severing of ties with many suppliers and also have a negative impact on Bangladesh's economy.

A survey by ActionAid Bangladesh, an international non-profit group, revealed earlier this year that nearly 48 per cent of the survivors of Rana PlazaNeed for more accountability on workers safety in South Asia 001 incident are out of employment due to their physical and mental weaknesses. The report stressed apart from mental trauma, many survivors suffer from headaches as well as hand, leg and back aches, which have rendered them unable to return to work in Bangladesh's multibillion dollar garment industry.

Trial and pressure

In 2015, a group of people affected by the Karachi factory blaze filed a case against KiK at a German regional court in Dortmund. They are demanding €30,000 in compensation from KiK and accuse the company of being jointly responsible for inadequate fire protection measures at the Ali Enterprises garment factory. KiK however rejects the claims. The company has agreed to pay a total of $5.15 million (€4.7 million) to the affected families and survivors following a negotiation overseen by the International Labour Organization. It however refused to make compensation payments for injuries incurred, as it could not be held responsible for the fire.

Policies to safeguard worker’s rights

In September, Saage-Maass, a human rights activist and lawyer working with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin blamed lack of certification process of these tragedies. It is clear that pressure on European companies to ensure safety and better conditions for workers in South Asian factories has increased in the past few years.

At the same time, the Bangladeshi court's decision to evict European inspectors shows how local capitalists can pressure their governments into ignoring workers' safety to maximise profits. Rights groups say it is crucial that European governments pile pressure on South Asian leaders to force them to implement proper policies to safeguard workers' rights.

 

 
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