Progress on clothing industry

Bangladesh clothing industry
As a direct result of global pressure from advocacy groups such as the Uniting Church, more than 200 companies have now signed the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord.

The Accord aims to ensure Bangladesh clothing factories are safe and that the tragic 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, which killed more than 1,100 people and injured thousands more, never occurs again.

Many Uniting Church members campaigned for Australian companies to sign the Accord, writing letters and sending postcards for companies to join the campaign.

To date the Australian companies that have signed the Accord include: Designworks Clothing Company Pty Limited; Cotton on Group; Forever New; K-Mart Australia; Licensing Essentials Pty Ltd; Pacific Brands; Pretty Girl Fashion Group Pty; Specialty Fashions Australia; Target Australia and Woolworths Australia.

More than 200 companies have signed the Accord globally, covering 1,600 factories in Bangladesh. The Just Group (made up of the brands Just Jeans, Jacqui E, Jay Jays, Portmans, Peter Alexander, Dotti, and Smiggle) have refused to sign the Accord.

With the Accord in place for two years, Brad Loewen, chief safety inspector for the Accord said significant improvements have been made.

“There has been especially good progress on electrical remediation, which is positive as most factory fires are caused by electrical hazards,” he said.

“As a result, we have helped prevent fires in factories covered by the Accord.”

Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the Justice and International Mission unit commended the efforts of Church members.

“We are thankful for all Uniting Church members who wrote letters and signed postcards, asking Australian clothing companies to sign up to the Accord,” he said.

“These actions have resulted in making factories in Bangladesh safer, which is likely to have saved lives.”

The owner of the Rana Plaza factory, along with dozens of government officials, have been charged with murder. They are accused of ignoring warnings that the collapse was imminent. A compensation fund for victims of the collapse has reached its funding target of $30 million from the international brands that were sourcing clothing from Rana Plaza at the time.

Since the Rana Plaza collapse, 65,000 clothing factory workers in Bangladesh have joined trade unions. However, the minimum wage in the garment industry in Bangladesh remains at $87 per month (or just over $4 per working day) – one of the lowest in the world.

As reported in Crosslight, the synod Commission for Mission also requested Church members to write letters to the clothing giant Pacific Brands asking to ensure their workers in Cambodia are paid enough to live on.

Pacific Brands owns such well-known brands as Bonds, Sheridan, Berlei, Tontine, Holeproof, Jockey and Voodoo.

Wages of workers in the garment sector in Cambodia remain inadequate for the workers to live a decent life.

In 2014, eight global companies (C&A, H&M, Inditex, N Brown Group, Tchibo GmbH, Next Retail, Primark, New Look) who source garments from Cambodia wrote a joint letter to the Cambodian Government in support of a living wage for garment workers.

The Cambodian Labour Advisory Committee released a new minimum wage level for garment workers set at $152 per month (around $5 a day). However, this is still far below a level that would allow workers to escape a life of poverty.

Pacific Brands has responded to letters sent by Uniting Church members stating that they source 3 per cent of their manufactured products from three factories in Cambodia.

The reply states “Pacific Brands acknowledges that the principle of a living wage is an important step towards workers being able to provide for themselves and their families basic needs – such as housing, food, education and healthcare.”

Dr Zirnsak said there are positive aspects in Pacific Brands’ response but there was much more work to be done.

“They should be ensuring all people working full-time in the factories they are sourcing from get the USD 177 in pay per month, at a minimum,” he said.

“Further, the letter fails to offer any explanation about why Pacific Brands has not joined with other international brands in calling for a living wage across the whole of the clothing industry.”

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