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Bangladesh: factory workers receive help

24 January 2014

by Helen Pye


The rag trade: employees work in a factory of the clothing company Babylon Garments, in Dhaka, on 3 January

The rag trade: employees work in a factory of the clothing company Babylon Garments, in Dhaka, on 3 January

AN APPEAL launched by the Church of Bangladesh through the Anglican Alliance has raised $16,000 for workers affected by the collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh last year.

Just as new building-regulation laws are being launched in the country, the appeal has provided financial support and resources to workers from the illegally built Rana Plaza factory, in which more than 1100 people died, and 2500 more were injured, in April last year (Comment, 17 May 2013).

The Alliance, with a global coalition of Churches, launched a campaign for justice and accountability for the garment workers in September last year (News, 13 September). It called on the Government and Western importers to provide a fair wage and decent working conditions for employees.

The Rana Plaza factory made ready-to-wear garments for the United States and European retailers, including Matalan and Primark in the UK. The collapse of the eight-storey building is considered Bangladesh's worst industrial accident.

The Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh, the Rt Revd Paul Sarker, has led the call for change in the country. At the time of the collapse, he criticised the owners of the factory, saying: "The garment manufacturers are rich, powerful and greedy. . . People in Bangladesh are suffering from many problems because of corruption and lack of moral values of the leaders and powerful."

Pressure put on stakeholdershas meant that the industry and conditions have improved for workers in the past year. It was announced on Tuesday that a coalition of more than 120 international clothing companies, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, has finalised fire-, electrical-, and building-inspection standards for all Bangladeshi factories. Inspections will begin this month, and a team hopes to have inspected all 1500 member factories by September.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BGMEA), however, has said that orders have nearly halved in the past three months - the worst drop in two decades - leaving the industry in a precarious economic situation.

The disruption to business caused by the collapse of the factory has been augmented by the violence that surrounded the national elections on 5 January. The Bangladeshi garment industry is worth $22 billion, and is responsible for 13 per cent of the country's GDP.

But BGMEA estimates that $1-billion-worth of business could be in jeopardy if the situation does not improve by June. The livelihoods of the 4.12 million people employed in the industry remain at risk, too, if political unrest continues.

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