Dozens of clothing chains have signed the Clean Clothes charter for Bangladesh, but some of the major brands are missing. Meanwhile a new disaster in Cambodia makes it painfully clear there still is a lot of work to be done.
31 chains sign enforceable charter
Trade union IndustriALL Global Union had made the fashion industry an ultimatum: clothing retailers got until midnight on Wednesday to agree with their charter to improve security in Bengal factories.
31 chains had signed the enforceable “Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh” before that deadline, agreeing on independent inspections of factories, access for unions and the formation of safety committees. The charter also guarantees the right of employees to refuse work in certain circumstances. The brands have also declared to be prepared to pay for renovations on factories of subcontractors.
The signing of the two largest clothing groups in the world earlier this week have certainly sped up the process. Since then a number of chains have joined: PVH (Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein), Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Primark, El Corte Inglés, Mango, Carrefour, Aldi, Benetton, WE Group, Esprit, Lidl, Abercrombie & Fitch and more.
American brands lag behind
“It is historic that so many brands have signed a legally binding agreement that puts workers first”, says Ben Vanpeperstraete of Clean Clothes Campaign. “This accord promises fundamental changes in the Bengal clothing industry. It is a shame however that the American brands are not following the European ones”, by which he refers to among other Gap and Walmart.
“We at Clean Clothes Campaign have first approached the big chains that at least worked at a European level. Because the accord needs a big scale, it was important they signed first, before we went to the big players”, Vanpeperstraete continues.
Still work to do
The enthusiasm about the agreement was overshadowed by the fact that terms agreed upon are not always followed. For example, the victims of the factory fire in Tazreen (November 2012) are still waiting for the compensation that was promised.
The negotiations with Primark about compensation for the Rana Plaza disaster are also at a dead end: “I'm disappointed and also angry," said Amirul Haque Amin, head of the National Garment Workers' Federation. "It has been two weeks and I expected after the meeting to hear from them within three or four days."
The problem is not only situated in Bangladesh, say the NGOs. In countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Cambodia and Burma people are also still working in dire conditions.
That once again became painfully clear, when Wednesday the roof of a shoe factory collapsed in Cambodia. Three people were killed and at least six injured. According to the first information the factory was making shoes for Japanese producer ASICS. In Cambodia the textile and shoe factories are the biggest employers, worth 65,000 jobs. Last year the sector brought in 3.7 billion dollar.