Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pressure on Bangladesh, retailers to fix factories

DHAKA, Bangladesh — In the aftermath of a building collapse that killed more than 500 people, Bangladesh's garment manufacturers may face a choice of reform or perish.

The shoddily constructed building that collapsed was home to five factories that supplied clothing to retailers in Europe and the United States. The disaster has put a focus on the high human price paid when Bangladeshi government ineptitude, Western consumer apathy and global retailing's drive for the lowest cost of production intersect.

Police said Friday that more than 500 bodies have been pulled from the wreckage of the eight-story Rana Plaza building that collapsed on April 24, sparking desperate rescue efforts, a national outpouring of grief and violent street protests.

The tragedy followed the deaths of 112 people five months ago in a blaze that swept through the Tazreen Fashions garment factory in Dhaka and the death of seven in a January blaze.

With three disasters in quick succession, the reputation of Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry, already notorious for its low wages and dismal safety record, has plummeted. International clothing brands and retailers that said they could ensure worker safety in developing countries through self-regulation such as factory inspections have also suffered a blow to their credibility.

Now, Bangladesh's garment manufacturers fear that a backlash has been set in motion that threatens fortunes and livelihoods in a business that employs more than 3 million people and accounts for 80 percent of the impoverished country's exports.

"It's a crucial time for us," said Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. "We are doing our best to improve the safety measures in the factories. We expect our buyers to bear with us and help us to overcome the current crisis. It's not the time to turn away from us. That will hurt the industry and many of the workers will lose jobs."

The most potent warning so far has come from the European Union, which said it could restrict Bangladesh's access to the crucial EU market if it fails to take steps to ensure that basic labor standards are enforced.

Bangladesh is a member of Europe's "Everything But Arms" program for the world's poorest nations that exempts it from quotas and tariffs on all exports to the 27-nation EU except armaments. The EU is Bangladesh's single biggest market.

"The sheer scale of this disaster and the alleged criminality around the building's construction is finally becoming clear to the world," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and trade commissioner Karel De Gucht said in a statement Tuesday. They said they want any EU action to "incentivize" responsible management of the garment industry in Bangladesh.

The United States is also reviewing Bangladesh's preferential trade status, a lengthy process that gained urgency after the killing last year of a Bangladeshi labor rights organizer who had campaigned for years to improve factory safety. Garments are not included in the American trade preferences for Bangladesh but loss of its special market access would further taint its reputation in the United States, its second-largest export market.

As a U.S. decision nears, the building collapse gives additional momentum to members of Congress who wrote to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina to protest a climate of fear created by the killing of Aminul Islam, the labor organizer, and lobbied then-U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to speed up a review of Bangladesh's trade access following the Tazreen fire.

Signs of dissension are also emerging among clothing brands and retailers who as a group have usually sought to distance themselves from industry disasters.

The chief executive of Canada's Loblaw Inc., which owns the Joe Fresh clothing line that was being made in the collapsed building, decried the response of "deafening silence" from what he said were more than two dozen other international retailers who used garment factories in the building.

Following the Tazreen fire where Walt Disney Co. branded clothing was found, the company in March added Bangladesh to a list of countries where it prohibits any of its clothing or merchandize from being produced.

The Bangladeshi garment association met this week with representatives of 40 garment buyers including H&M, J.C. Penney, Gap, Nike, Li & Fung and Tesco. It said the companies have doubts about whether the industry can meet their production deadlines because of the disasters and political turmoil.

Protesters demonstrate outside the Primark store on Oxford Street on April 27 in London. Campaigners called for compensating victims of the clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh.

Getty Images

Protesters demonstrate outside the Primark store on Oxford Street on April 27 in London. Campaigners called for compensating victims of the clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh.

Pressure on Bangladesh, retailers to fix factories 05/03/13 [Last modified: Saturday, May 4, 2013 12:05am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Deputies find unidentified decomposing body in Dunedin canal

    Public Safety

    DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff's deputies found an unidentified male body floating in a Dunedin canal Monday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office said.

  2. Rays acquire slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Marlins

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chaim Bloom said the Rays weren't necessarily in the market for a shortstop. The team has a number of those. But when the Marlins recently began shopping Adeiny Hechavarria, well, that was too much to pass up.

    Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops in the past three seasons with the Marlins.
  3. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108
  4. Fennelly: About time Dave Andreychuk makes Hockey Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    It's Andy's time.

    And it's about time.

    Former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk has been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He had been eligible since 2009, a ridiculously long wait for someone who scored 640 goals, including a record 274 on the power play.

    LEFT: Dave Andreychuk talks at the podium as he is honored with a statue in front of the now-Amalie Arena.
  5. British government says 75 out of 75 buildings failed fire safety tests

    World

    LONDON — Britain on Monday confronted a rapidly growing fire safety crisis after tests of the exterior cladding on dozens of public housing towers revealed a 100 percent failure rate, raising fears that this month's deadly inferno in London could be repeated elsewhere.

    Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali, presents his first Chrono-Hologram in Paris, France, in 1973. A Spanish judge on Monday June 26, 2017, has ordered the remains of artist Salvador Dali to be exhumed following a paternity suit by a woman named by Europa Press agency as Pilar Abel, 61 from the nearby city of Girona. Dali, considered one of the fathers of surrealism in art, died in 1989 and is buried in his museum in the northeastern town of Figueres. [Associated Press]