LONDON, April 25 (Reuters) - Major western clothing
retailers squeezing Asian suppliers and a flawed approach to
ensuring even basic working standards are fuelling conditions
for tragedies like the latest factory collapse in Bangladesh,
NGOs said on Thursday.
At least 187, mainly female workers, were killed and over
1,000 injured when the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory building
in Savar, 30 kilometres (20 miles) outside the capital Dhaka,
collapsed on Wednesday.
"What we're saying is that bargain-basement (clothing) is
automatically leading towards these types of disasters," John
Hilary, executive director at British charity War on Want, told
He said western clothing retailers' desire to undercut
rivals has translated into increasing pressure on foreign
suppliers to reduce costs.
"If you've got that, then it's absolutely clear that you're
not going to be able to have the right kind of building
regulations, health and safety, fire safety. Those things will
become more and more impossible as the cost price goes down."
Hilary said the push for lower costs inevitably led to
factories cutting corners: "As a result of that, we see the sort
of disaster that happened yesterday."
War on Want and its partner in Bangladesh, the National
Garment Workers' Federation, called on major international
buyers to be held to account.
"This negligence must stop. The deaths of these workers
could have been avoided if multinational corporations,
governments and factory owners took workers' protection
seriously," NGWF president, Amirul Haque Amin, said in a
Gareth Price-Jones, Bangladesh country director of British
charity Oxfam, said western companies had not done enough.
"Western buyers could be doing much, much more, and they
have a moral responsibility to do so," he told Reuters. "Western
buyers really need to press for decent wages and safe working
He said Bangladeshi building regulations were not robust
enough for construction in an earthquake zone and were, in any
case, frequently ignored.
Around 4,500 Bangladeshi factories pump out clothes for many
of the world's major brands, employing 4 million workers and
generating 80 percent of Bangladesh's $24 billion annual
exports, making it the world's No.2 apparel exporter behind
But with wages as low as $37 a month for some workers
toiling for 10-15 hours a day, and increasing publicity about
unsanitary and unsafe working conditions, some retailers were
getting worried about their reputation.
A lot have introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR)
programmes, where they carry out factory audits and inspections
and talk to employees about worker conditions.
But War on Want says the CSR processes are often flawed.
"What happens is the workers are trained in what to say, the
factories present favourable books and keep back the real
books," Hilary said, noting that in countries like China there
were courses to coach factories on how to pass an audit without
telling the truth.
The Savar disaster came five months after Bangladesh's worst
ever factory fire, which killed 112 people, and another incident
at a factory in January in which seven died.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), an umbrella
organisation that brings NGOs, unions and brands together to try
and improve working conditions, said the latest tragedy
demonstrated the chronic widespread problems in the sector that
affect the most basic of workers' rights.
"These incidents all serve as yet another call to action for
the Bangladesh industry, government, retailers, worker
representatives and NGOs to work together, to raise workplace
safety standards across the country's garment sector," it said.