Five years after the Rana Plaza clothing factories in Bangladesh collapsed, several governments have taken measures to force manufacturers to have more sustainable production, but the labour conditions have not improved for everyone.
Government needs to enforce sustainable production
According to KULeuven researcher Huib Huyse it is not only the consumer, but mainly the government’s job to demand a more sustainable production. In a new study, he analyses how different countries have motivated multinationals to clean up their manufacturing chain.
Governments in the Netherlands and Germany have brought together companies and other organizations and have also written enforceable legislation. France has voted for a law that enforces the top 200 French companies to not only identify supply chain risks, but also take measures to resolve these risks. If they do not, they face hefty fines.
Difficult for consumer to see
Huyse feels that is a good move, because the consumer often cannot see what comes from a (not) sustainable production line and what does not. Belgium does not grade that well: Huyse feels his country should force multinationals more to create a more sustainable production. “Multinationals that use cheap labour to create clothing have little to fear from Belgium”, he said in Belgian newspaper De Standaard.
He recommends that governments can implement existing labour clauses and trade treaties regarding responsible entrepreneurship and enforce these as a condition in public tenders and investments. Current initiatives from the United Nations or the European Union could serve as a basis.
24 April 2013: 1,134 dead and 2,000 injured
The report is a result of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, exactly five years ago. A factory building, eight stories high, collapsed and killed 1,134 people. More than 2,000 others were injured. Mostly seamstresses and other textile factory workers were among the casualties, having to work in unsafe and crowded factories to create clothing for international fashion brands including H&M, Primark and C&A.
After the tragedy, there were plenty of international treaties and collaboration deals to improve the textile industry’s labour conditions, including the “Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh” deal: more than 200 international fashion companies have signed the deal to improve the factories’ safety.
More than 90 % of factories have been structurally altered, with improved foundations and additional support in order to avoid additional collapses as part of another initiative, called ‘Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety’. Nearly every factory part of that alliance has renovated its electricity infrastructure and installed fire-resistant doors.
Wage and labour conditions barely improved
Little has changed when it comes to wages, according to a recent Global Workers’ Rights’ study. Minimum wages increased massively (the Bengali government increased minimum wages 77 % to 55 euro per month), but that increase does not even cover the country’s enormous inflation. A sustainable wage would be between 177 and 214 dollar (145 to 175 euro), depending on the region, according to the Global Living Wage Coalition in 2016.
Increased minimum wages and improved safety measures do not help the many textile workers that are paid below the legal limits and work at home for the major fashion chains’ subcontractors, as is increasingly the norm. Factory workers still have to work long hours and the pressure is still very high, according to the Global Workers’ Rights’ study.