Highlights of news on Bangladesh factory safety, April-May 2013

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Date of publication: May 10, 2013

A selection of articles citing ILRF and/or actions organized by ILRF

May 10, 2013, Bloomberg. Jeff Green
Bangladesh 1,000 Dead Recall Triangle-to-Bhopal Tragedies

The rising death toll in Bangladesh -- and the images from the disaster -- may help keep the tragedy in the public eye, Liana Foxvog, organizing director for International Labor Rights Forum, said in a phone interview. “There is certainly a growing awareness,” Foxvoq said. “I think it comes down to a critical mass of people taking action.”

May 9, 2013, ABC News. Matt Mosk and Brian Ross.
Union Protests to Target Gap over Bangladesh Worker Safety 

"When we talk about death trap factories I think that label is appropriate for Gap," said Liana Foxvog, the organizing director of the International Labor Rights Forum. "If Gap had stepped forward on this issue sooner, we believe other brands would have followed, and it's possible some of these disasters could have been prevented."

May 8, Channel News Asia. 
From West, long road seen on Bangladesh safety.

Liana Foxvog of the International Labor Rights Forum, which has been involved in the talks, said the binding agreement would cost about 10 US cents extra per garment. But only two companies eventually signed on: PVH, which produces clothing under brands that include Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and German coffeehouse chain Tchibo. "I think the real issue is that (companies) don't want to set a precedent that may empower workers in other parts of the world," Foxvog said.

May 8, Salon. Katie McDonough
Gap Inc. targeted by post-Bangladesh corporate reform campaign.

The International Labor Rights Forum and United Students Against Sweatshops have launched Gap Deathtraps, a campaign to pressure the clothing giant to abandon its policy of self-regulation and sign the legally binding Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement to ensure safer factory conditions.

May 7, 2013, Digital First Media. Adrienne LaFrance.
Why is it so hard to trace a T-shirt's origins?

"If companies really wanted to track where the products are coming from, they could." That doesn't mean it's easy. Just counting the number of times a piece of fabric changes hands en route to American retailers' shelves is complex, and "the further down the supply chain you're looking, the harder it is to track," Foxvog says. "A company may actually not know where their cotton is coming from if they haven't taken it upon themselves to do the due diligence to track it to find out," Foxvog said.

May 5, 2013, CNN. Larry Stine.
Bangladesh Garment Export Industry Under Scrutiny

"What's happened in Bangladesh is that they have been too successful as that this low road model of development, where they have offered low wage labor, and under invested in their own infrastructure and under invested in government regulations and government enforcement of laws," says Judy Gearhart of the International Labor Rights Forum.

And while contracts poured in from the likes of Primark, Walmart, Carrefour, Gap and Disney, buildings went up fast, filled with workers, sometimes housed on illegally built floors, but wages remained low.

May 3, 2013, Bloomberg. Renee Dudley.
Wal-Mart to J.C. Penney Join Bangladesh Safety Talks

“My hope is that companies have been shocked to their cores by seeing the photos and hearing the workers’ quotes coming out of Rana Plaza,” said Liana Foxvog, a spokeswoman for the International Labor Rights Forum, a Washington-based advocacy group. “I trust that they realize that enough is enough and have the sense to sign on to the same core elements that PVH and Tchibo have adopted.”

May 3, 2013, Salon. Kate McDonough.
How shoppers can help prevent Bangladesh-type disasters

Organizations like the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) offer shopping guides to companies that use sweatshop-free labor, ensure a living wage for their workers, and otherwise act in accordance with international labor standards. These retailers are small and utterly niche. They have names like “Solidarity Clothing” and “Maggie’s Organics” and, more often than not, mostly sell T-shirts and tote bags, headbands and yoga pants — products that the average consumer does not usually require in bulk.

But, as ILRF organizing director Liana Foxvog notes, the average consumer is usually part of a group that does buy in bulk. “Think about the larger organizations that we are already a part of that are also consumers. Ask yourself: Does my child’s sports team or school buy T-shirts? Does my company buy tote bags for conferences?” she asks. “Each one of us can think about an organization or group that we are connected to in some way, and we can get these groups to buy from places that are already meeting ethical standards.”

May 2, 2013, The New York Times. Judy Gearhart and Liana Foxvog.
Disney’s Disgrace 

“Disney’s decision to pull out of Bangladesh is shameful and should not be emulated. Global companies have made huge profits by using Bangladeshi factories for years. Now is not the time to walk away… We continue to invite Disney to help the workers in Bangladesh through paying its fair share into the victims’ fund and by making a real commitment to being socially responsible.”

April 29, 2013, National Public Radio, All Things Considered.
Bangladesh Lacks Factory, Fire Inspectors For Huge Industry 

“For mainstream consumers, we really need to get people to become consumer activists. But we certainly don't want the brands leaving Bangladesh. That's not the point. The point is to clean up the industry, not to walk away from the mess,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum.

April 29, 2013, Labor Notes. Marc Norton
Terrorists? Arrest 'Em (Unless They're Walmart)

On the very day of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, one of the survivors of a November 2012 fire at Tazreen Fashion, near Dhaka, Sumi Abedin, was in San Francisco. She and another former garment worker from Bangladesh, Kalpona Akter, had tickets to attend a gala fundraiser at the Fairmont Hotel for the Latino Community Foundation, which is led by Aida Alvarez, a prominent member of Walmart’s board. Not surprisingly, the Foundation denied Abedin and Akter access to the fundraiser, along with other Walmart workers from the Bay Area and Southern California who’d planned to attend. Instead, they and their supporters rallied outside the Fairmont, demanding justice for Walmart workers all along the supply chain...

The day after the fundraiser at the Fairmont, Abedin and Akter attended a large rally outside the GAP World Headquarters in San Francisco. GAP, like Walmart, profits from the sweatshop wages paid in garment factory death traps in Bangladesh and around the world. A number of workers wrapped in mock shrouds lay on the ground in front of GAP’s doorway.

Since 2006, close to 1,000 garment workers in Bangladesh have died while manufacturing clothes for companies like Walmart and GAP. The death toll keeps rising. When will law enforcement deal with these terrorists in our midst?

April 26, 2013. The New York Times. Julfikar Ali Manik, Jim Yardley, Steven Greenhouse.
Bangladeshis Burn Factories to Protest Unsafe Conditions  

Labor groups in the United States on Friday distributed photos showing that they had discovered garments with labels from J. C. Penney and El Corte Inglés, the Spanish retailer, at the site of the collapse. Seeking to press American retailers to do more to assure factory safety in Bangladesh, dozens of worker advocates held protests on Thursday at the Gap’s headquarters in San Francisco and at a Walmart store in Renton, Wash.

Apr 26, 2013. In These Times. Michelle Chen.
Factory Collapse in Bangladesh Exposes Cracks in the System 

Liana Foxvog of International Labor Rights Forum noted that the Tazreen fire was the deadliest garment factory disaster Bangladesh had seen—until this week:

"Now the death toll in the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factories has surpassed Tazreen. My hope is that all the media attention and expressions of concern and outrage by consumers will translate into factory owners, brands and government taking meaningful action to put an end to the killing of Bangladesh’s garment workers.”

April 26, 2013. Reuters. Pramila Jayapal.
Can Western companies put an end to Bangladesh factory disasters? 

In an interview in Seattle on Thursday, Liana Foxvog, organizing director of the International Labor Rights Forum, said it is unacceptable but standard practice for apparel buyers to give a “three strikes, you’re out” letter instead of immediately demanding fixes. And, she said, “Companies like Wal-Mart also never tell the workers of the hazards and dangers that they know about. So where is the accountability to human lives?” Foxvog says that is why it is essential that corporations sign the legally binding agreement, to hold them accountable for what they know and how they source their products all the way down the global supply chain.

April 26, 2013. The Seattle Times. Sarah Stuteville.
‘End Death Traps’ tour puts face on garment work in Bangladesh

Abedin is in Seattle as part of the “End Death Traps” tour, which is visiting 10 U.S. cities this month raising awareness about safety and labor concerns in Bangladesh’s garment industry. They hope to ensure full compensation to Tazreen fire victims, as well as force corporations that manufacture in Bangladesh to sign on to a fire-safety agreement.

April 26, 2013. The Progressive. David Bacon
Who Pays the Real Price of Your Shirt? 

Tazreen made clothes for Wal-Mart, among other big brands. The Rana Plaza building held several factories where 2500 women churned out garments. According to the International Labor Rights Forum, “One of the factories in the Rana complex, Ether-Tex, had listed WalMart-Canada as a buyer on their website.” Labor activists found other documents in the rubble listing cutting orders from Benetton and other labels.

April 25, 2013, Wall Street Journal / India Real Time. Joanna Sugden.
Bangladesh Deaths Renew Calls For Safety

Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum told The Wall Street Journal’s India Real Time that workers need a system to allow them to report safety concerns without the fear of losing their jobs. “We need them [foreign apparel makers] to come to the agreement that we have put forward, we need greater transparency and an integral role for workers and their employers; had this been in place we would not have had workers sent back into work [after the crack appeared], ” Ms. Gearhart said.

April 25, 2013. Bloomberg. Arun Devnath, Mehul Srivastava. ‘Suddenly the Floor Wasn’t There,’ Factory Survivor Says

Before the collapse, at least 700 people had been killed since 2005 in Bangladesh’s garment industry, according to the International Labor Rights Forum, a Washington-based advocacy group. Every accident has brought promises from Western companies of improved supervision of local suppliers. Behind the scenes, though, different decisions are made.

April 25, 2013. Democracy Now. Juan González, Amy Goodman.
Over 200 Killed in Bangladesh Factory Collapse After Workers Forced to Ignore Building’s Dangers 

We’re joined now by two guests. Kalpona Akter is with us. She’s executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, started work in garment factories when she was 12 years old. She is usually in Bangladesh but currently in the United States to call on retailers like Wal-Mart, The Gap and Disney to take the lead in improving working conditions in Bangladesh.

April 25, 2013. Democracy Now. Juan González, Amy Goodman.
Survivor of Bangladesh’s Tazreen Factory Fire Urges U.S. Retailers to Stop Blocking Worker Safety 

This week’s Bangladeshi factory disaster comes five months after a massive fire killed at least 112 garment workers at Bangladesh’s Tazreen factory, which made clothing sold by Wal-Mart, among other companies. Earlier this month, Wal-Mart refused to compensate victims and their families, even though it was apparently the factory’s largest buyer. We’re joined by Sumi Abedin, a worker who survived the Tazreen fire by jumping from the factory’s third story, breaking both her arm and foot in the process. She is currently touring the United States to call on retailers like Wal-Mart, The Gap and Disney to take the lead on improving working conditions in Bangladesh. We also speak with Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and Charlie Kernaghan of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.

April 25, 2013. NPR. Sabri Ben-Achour.
The business strategy in plausible deniability          

Protestors chant as they march around the Gap Inc. headquarters during a demonstration on April 25, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. Dozens of protesters staged a demonstration outside of the Gap Inc. headquarters demanding that the retail clothing giant improve working conditions in their manufacturing facilities in Bangladesh. Since 2006, at least 600 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in fires and building collapses due to unsafe working conditions and poorly maintained facilities.

April 25, 2013. NBC Bay Area. Jean Elle.
Walmart Protests Break Out Following Bangladesh Factory Collapse 

“She and another former factory worker arrived in San Francisco Wednesday hoping to meet with business leaders who contract with the factories.

Abedin says WalMart worked with her factory and she believes it worked with a factory in the collapsed building. She and a group of supporters protested outside the Fairmont Hotel, hoping to talk to Walmart board member Aida Alvarez.

April 25, 2013. The Globe and Mail.
Bangladesh labour activists say retailers should compensate victims  

Kalpona Akter of the Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity and Liana Foxvog of International Labor Rights Forum join Hannah Sung to discuss their work after a fire in November 2012 claimed 111 lives and what retailers should do in the aftermath of the latest garment factory tragedy.

April 24, 2013. The Atlantic. Jason Motlagh, Susie Taylor.
In the Wake of a Deadly Fire, Garment Workers Push for Stronger Protections  

The Bangladeshi ready-made garment industry is built on a low-wage, low-cost strategy, which has enabled them to grow the industry quickly and remain one of the cheapest places in the world to produce apparel," says Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum. Rights groups contend that Western buying houses know full well that high volume, low cost orders will be farmed out to sweatshops with no incentive to respect fire codes or workers rights.

April 24, 2013. International Business Times. Julian Kossoff.
Bangladesh Factory Disaster: Workers Made Clothes for Benetton, Primark and Dress Barn

According to Liana Foxvog, of the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), the collapse eerily echoes the Spectrum factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2005, in which 64 people were killed and 80 were injured. Garment factories in Bangladesh, the world's biggest exporter of clothing after China, are often located in unsafe buildings originally constructed for residential or commercial purposes.