Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety and Workers' Rights

Since 2005, MSN has been working with Bangladeshi and international allies to expose and remedy unsafe working conditions in the country’s garment industry and to pressure international brands to compensate the survivors of factory disasters and eliminate unsafe conditions and practices in their supplier factories.

Fire and Building Safety

The April 24, 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh killed over 1,100 workers and injured approximately 2,500 injured. The building housed over five garment buildings. It collapse has been dubbed the worst industrial disaster in the history of the Bangladesh garment industry. However, this was no accident; workers knew the building was unsafe, but had been forced to go to work to meet the order deadlines of international brands.

Rana Plaza was not the first garment factory related tragedy in Bangladesh. Over the past 15 years, hundreds more workers have been killed in preventable factory fires and building collapses, yet nothing was done to correct the problem. Five months before Rana Plaza, 112 workers were killed in the Tazreen factory fire. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was a precedent-setting response to this preventable loss of life and ongoing risks to workers, and represented a recognition that the company-controlled factory audit system was failing to detect and eliminate fire and building safety hazards in the country’s garment industry.

Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh

The Accord is a legally-binding agreement between Global and Bangladeshi unions and over 200 apparel brands and retailers. It requires signatory brands and their Bangladeshi suppliers to cooperate with independent safety inspections, the results of which are published on the Accord website. Signatory companies are also required to underwrite the costs of necessary factory upgrades. Under the Accord, workers and management personnel receive health and safety training and their representatives participate in health and safety committees. Workers also have the right to file complaints about unsafe conditions and to refuse unsafe work.

MSN is a witness signatory to the Accord and a member of the Accord’s Worker Participation Working Group. MSN also lobbied Canadian retailer Loblaw to sign the Accord after clothes bearing the company’s Joe Fresh label were found in the rubble of the Rana Plaza building.

Compensation: Rana Plaza Donors' Trust Fund

The ILO-administered Trust Fund was established to provide compensation to workers injured at Rana Plaza and the families of those killed. It took two years of campaigning to convince brands to contribute a total of US$30 million to the Trust Fund, so that the survivors and families of workers killed could receive compensation for lost income and medical expenses. However, the fund did not provide compensation for the pain and suffering of the families and survivors.

MSN lobbied Loblaw to contribute and increase its contribution to the Trust Fund, and also participated in the international campaign targeting The Children’s Place, Walmart and other companies linked to Rana Plaza.

Workers’ rights and criminalization

A December 2016 workers’ strike for decent wages was met with a violent crackdown led by national and industrial police forces. MSN joined various global initiatives aimed at mounting pressure on the Bangladesh government, international apparel brands and Bangladeshi factory owners to bring an end to the violence against workers, and criminalization of trade union activities. MSN continues to monitor this situation and collaborates with other labour rights organizations to campaign for respect for workers’ rights.

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