Time to pay up 24/04/14

Niaz Alam, Dhaka Tribune op-ed 24 April 2014

Many factors underlay the culture of poor enforcement of safety laws, which enabled supervisors to order workers into buildings at Rana Plaza that had already been officially declared unsafe.

Apportioning responsibility between the broader factors, such as poor enforcement of laws by government, or cost-cutting by factories, which allowed lax enforcement of safety to reach such a fatal situation, is a complex task.

One factor which is widely appreciated though is that the garments industry globally relies on many tiers of sub-contractors, in order to meet short lead times for getting goods into shops. Hence, no matter how comprehensive a buyer’s ethical auditing practices may be, or however many well run, compliant factories it deals with directly, the reality on the ground is that some work may and is subcontracted to less well-run sites.

Hence, there was little surprise that 29 brands were identified as being linked to production at sites in Rana Plaza.

In a welcome move, four of these brands, (Primark, Loblaw, Bonmarche, El Corte Ingles), joined the Bangladesh Ministry of Labour, Bangladesh Employers’ Federation, BGMEA, Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies (BILS), and labour groups including the global trade union, Industriall, in signing the Rana Plaza Compensation Arrangement to establish an agreed framework to assess and deliver compensation in a timely manner.

As of this week, it was still two-thirds short of its $40m target for contributions to the voluntary Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, administered by the ILO, which it set up to manage funds for victims of Rana Plaza.

The Clean Clothes Campaign which supports the Arrangement is urging consumers around the world to write to all the brands involved asking them to make contributions. The table below lists the names given on its website, on which further details can be found.

For those who can afford to, Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund does say on its website that it is open to any company, organisation, or individual that wishes to contribute as a way of expressing solidarity. The Arrangement’s website provides full details of how this is administered, but currently does not list any Bangladeshi banks to receive funds.

In total, the combined profits of these brands last year exceeded $22bn, so for them the amounts being sought are relatively small. For the victims however, they are absolutely crucial as the Arrangement provides an accountable and transparent mechanism to provide much needed assistance.