Industrial working conditions in Bangladesh are often very bad, even below every standard of human dignity as we informed in the blog “Fire inBangladesh” of 3 december last year. Now it is only 5 months later and more than 500 garment workers, mostly young women, were buried alive when a huge building collapsed with thousands of workers in it.
What happened exactly still has to be established but as far as we know until now is that the owner of the Rana Plaza building, hired by many small garment factories, knew the building was becoming dangerous but that he did not want to close it. Engineers who checked the building because cracks were detected in the walls of the building, did not take any action. Worse, they were the ones who on demand of the owner, have build another 3 floors on the top of the 5 storey building. On the other side, a bank below in the building decided to close because of the cracks in the wall while the employers of the small garment factories forced their workers to enter the building under threat of a fine.
Who has to be blamed for this human tragedy caused by greed of the owner of Rana Plaza and the employers? Of course on the first place the owner of Rana Plaza but also the employers of the many small garment factories and the authorities who have the responsibility to ensure that the building codes are inspected and labour inspection. But it should be noted, as has been the case many times, that many of those responsible have been bribed with the aim not to report irregularities.
What about the responsibility of the most Western garment companies that want production at the lowest costs? Do they have any responsibility? They must not do business with companies that does not respect the ILO conventions and directives on decent work and working conditions. They must cooperate as much as possible with the ILO and the trade unions to work out a policy in line with international standards as has been developed by the ILO.
The newly elected Pope Francis compared the conditions in which these workers had to work with slavery. “Wages being to low, with just attention for the turnover and concern for personal gains. That goes against the will of God!'' The Pope referred also to his 1 May, Labour Day speech. He called on political leaders to do their best to create jobs. According to Pope Francis “the high unemployment is attributable to economic thinking outside the boundaries of social justice.''
ILO Secretary General Guy Rider should be praised for his quick response to this outrageous disaster by sending a high-level mission to Bangladesh “to offer its support and expedite action by all parties following the collapse of the Rana Plaza Building in Savar, which left at least 380 people dead” (Today we are talking about more than 500 victims). The ILO website informs that the high-level mission is led by ILO Deputy Director-General for Field Operations, Gilbert Houngbo. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said he was writing to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, urging immediate action to prevent a recurrence of the latest in a series of entirely avoidable workplace tragedies.
“Horror and regret must translate into urgent firm action,” said Ryder. “Action now can prevent further tragedy. Inaction would mean that the next tragedy is simply a matter of time. The ILO urges the Government of Bangladesh and its employers and trade unions to make use of its support and ensure that the Rana Plaza tragedy is the last of its kind.”
We welcome also the statement of the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to consider measures for example through the trade preference policy. The EU now has policies that make developing countries such as Bangladesh, have to pay less import tax. The EU is the largest trading partner of Bangladesh and the clothes made in the collapsed building, were destined for the European and Canadian markets.