June 06, 2017
The Human Thread is delighted that the first 13 global companies (with many more pending and expected) and two global unions have agreed on a 2nd Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The new agreement will enter into effect when the current Accord expires in May 2018. The Accord is an unprecedented, legally binding agreement between companies and trade unions to make factories in Bangladesh safe. While much remains to be done, the original Accord has been an important vehicle for improving workplace safety.
The original Accord was signed in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster and would last five years.
In addition to the brands and the two unions, the agreement also has four non-governmental labor rights organizations as “witness signatories.” Sarah Newell, Campaigns Associate at the International Labor Rights Forum, one of the witness signatory organizations, said:
The renewal of the Accord is based on clear evidence that this model, where companies take active responsibility for the safety and rights of workers in their supply chains, works. As we saw with the first Accord, it will take consumer pressure for brands and retailers to commit to making these changes. If as much progress is to be made in the next four years as in the past four, it’ll take conscientious consumers supporting workers by urging brands who source clothing from Bangladesh to sign onto the new Accord and follow through on their commitments.
Here at The Human Thread, we agree Ms. Newell, and we want to underscore the importance of “conscientious consumers” in advancing worker safety, rights, and wages.
For more information, Reuters covered the new Accord here. A press release from the Accord is here. The full text of the agreement is available here. ILRF’s statement on the renewal is found here. The four witness signatories’ statement is found here. The statement from ICCR is available here.
December 12, 2016
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.
Thus begins Clement Clarke Moore’s Christmas classic. I have long loved this poem. My memories of Christmas as a child include midnight mass, and opening one present on Christmas Eve from my maternal grandmother: always a pair of pajamas. Then we (my siblings and I) went to bed until morning when, after Santa’s visit, we would open a mountain of gifts under the tree.
Such wonderful images and memories remain with me; hoping for a world where all children could have the same. However, my Christmas recollections have been jarred by another vision that I can’t get out of my head.
Recent news reports and investigations reveal anew the ongoing shame of child labor, all-too-prevalent instances of human exploitation, including children in Bangladesh and of Syrian refugee children in Turkey.
I recommend two articles in particular:
In and effort to supplement the meager household income of their parents some of those children are also victims of trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Most parents, like us, want their children to be in schools, but low wages for their parents are a good reason they are not. Our corporations need to be ever more vigilant around human exploitation in their supply chain. Amid the opaque relationships between corporations, contractors, and subcontractors, our retailers must work to insure that children have the gift of childhood. While they are trying to overcome child labor, it’s clear the problem persists.
As we gather around the Christmas tree in coming days, please, take a moment to recall those children in the supply chain who may have labored to make our Christmas clothes.
November 11, 2016
After the devastating consequences of the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 killing 1,134 people, two organizations emerged for inspecting and auditing safety in workplaces. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created with independent and transparent reports of safety inspections and progress. The Accord’s Corrective Action Plans (CAPS) are detailed factory-level spreadsheets documenting inspection results, the required repairs and renovations, designated deadlines for each identified remediation item, and progress status on each item. The Accord CAPS are available at http://accord.fairfactories.org/ffcweb/Web/ManageSuppliers/InspectionReportsEnglish.aspx. It also in includes a critical voice for labor within the factories on health and safety issues. The other organization, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, established by global retailers including Gap, Target and Walmart, does not make the inspection reports public and lacks the free selection of workers for their representatives in factory health and safety committees. In spite of the Alliance’s lack of transparency, where side-by-side comparison is possible, a new study reports that the Alliance is giving passing grades to factories that have failed to implement critical safety repairs.
In 2013, when Gap, Target, Walmart, and 23 other North American companies refused to join with unions in a legally-binding agreement to improve workplace safety in Bangladesh, they announced their own corporate-controlled alternative. The report “Dangerous Delays on Worker Safety,” which was researched and written by the International Labor Relations Forum, the Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign, and Maquila Solidarity Network, is the first independent investigation into the Alliance’s track record. It exposes a startling disconnect between the Alliance rating system and the actual conditions in the factories. Of 107 factories examined that are labelled by the Alliance as “On Track,” the report finds that:
These statistics, if accurate, are terrifying, and they have real world consequences. The report’s analysis alleges that there are 120,000 garment workers employed in the 62 factories that produce items for Walmart that do not have fully viable fire exits.
The Guardian has an excellent article on the report found here: Retail group approves Bangladesh factories as safety concerns persist, report finds.
If this is true, critical changes must happen within the Alliance as they have been publicly overstating progress and approving factories despite safety concerns. Right now, 29 companies are members of the Alliance: Ariela and Associates International LLC; Bon Worth; Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited; Carter’s Inc.; The Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc.; Costco Wholesale Corporation; Fruit of the Loom, Inc.; Gap Inc.; Giant Tiger; Hudson’s Bay Company; IFG Corp.; Intradeco Apparel; J.C. Penney Company Inc.; Jordache Enterprises, Inc.; The Just Group; Kate Spade & Company; Kohl’s Department Stores; L. L. Bean Inc.; M. Hidary & Company Inc.; Macy’s; Nine West Holdings, Inc.; Nordstrom Inc.; Public Clothing Company; Sears Holdings Corporation; Target Corporation; VF Corporation; and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; YM Inc.
As consumers, as people of faith, we share the concern with which the report concludes: “The Alliance’s approach to reporting safety progress legitimately raises the question whether the Alliance is prioritizing the protection of its member brands’ reputations over the protection of workers.”
Update: the Honorable Ellen O’Kane Tauscher, independent chair of the Board of The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), has issued a statement in response to the report found here in the Alliance website: http://www.bangladeshworkersafety.org/en/410-alliance-continues-to-improve-safety-in-bangladesh-garment-industry
October 10, 2016
Pope Francis, who has paid more attention than most to Bangladesh, is in the process of directing Catholics’ and the world’s gaze upon that nation.
Recall that Pope Francis was one world leader who called attention to the disaster at Rana Plaza. Pope Francis, vigilant of religious persecution, also voiced sorrow for the victims of the terrorist attack in Dhaka. Returning from Georgia and Azerbaijan, Pope Francis confirmed that he will visit Bangladesh in 2017. Then, on Sunday, he named Archbishop Patrick D’Rosario, C.S.C. a cardinal. Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country of almost 170 million people, has 350,000 Catholics, or just .2% of the population. It will be the second visit by a Pope to Bangladesh as Saint John Paul II visited in 1986.
The challenges posed in Evangelii Gaudium to go to the peripheries and in Laudato Si’ to care for our common home, many of the great themes of his papacy, are incarnated in Bangladesh. Among issues associated with poverty, the Pope’s visit to Bangladesh in 2017 will likely bring attention to workers’ rights, wages, and workplace safety in garment industry. The church in Bangladesh has done extraordinary work on behalf of the poor, but Pope Francis will bring that great work and the ongoing challenges to the attention of the rest of the world.