FOLLOWING the terrible tragedy of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, claiming the lives of more than 1,100 people, the new moderator, Dan Wootton, has written to Woolworths, Coles, Target, Kmart, Cotton On and Pacific Brands.
He has requested they sign up to an internationally binding agreement around building safety for their suppliers in Bangladesh. Rana Plaza included garment factories producing for export.
Bangladesh is a major supplier of garments to Australian clothing companies.
The agreement has been developed by local and global unions and labour rights organisations. It already has the support of 32 global companies, including Aldi, Benetton, Esprit, Mango, Marks & Spencer and Tesco.
The agreement was developed by the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF), the Clean Clothes Campaign, the Worker Rights Consortium, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Maquila Solidarity Network and seven Bangladeshi unions and NGOs.
It provides for independent safety inspections overseen by a jointly appointed chief inspector with fire safety experience. Brands and retailers sourcing from the factories will be required to fund necessary repairs.
Reports of the findings of the safety inspections will be made public.
A number of US companies, including Walmart and the Gap, have refused to join the agreement and are working on their own non-binding initiative.
“We are deeply concerned by those companies seeking to draft inadequate voluntary initiatives, with such competing proposals likely to reduce the effectiveness of all the initiatives to improve factory safety in Bangladesh”, Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit, said.
“We have been asking Uniting Church members to get involved in an e-mail campaign targeting the Gap to ask them to sign the joint and legally binding agreement.
“As evidence of the inadequacy of the current approach by companies using their own codes, UK clothing retailer Primark had a code of conduct that included factory audits and sourced product from Rana Plaza.
“Almost all existing company codes have no genuine independent monitoring or transparency.
“The disaster at Rana Plaza is now the deadliest incident in the garment industry in south Asia in known history.
“However, it is but one in a series of disasters that could have been prevented had proper safety measures been adopted,” Dr Zirnsak said.
“There is a need to end unsafe conditions in garment factories in Bangladesh and provide Bangladesh workers with decent jobs.”