A total of 31 multinational clothing companies have signed an international pact to improve safety standards for garment factory workers in Bangladesh, but no Danish companies have joined the agreement.
The agreement was developed by an international coalition of trade unions and NGOs after a building collapse in Dhaka last month killed over 1,100 people, many of whom were garment workers. The contract requires that clothing companies conduct independent safety inspections of their facilities, make public reports on the conditions of their factories, and cover necessary costs for safety repairs.
The contract also calls for retailers to cease business with any factory that refuses to make repairs or allow employees to have a say in security measures.
But the development minister, Christian Friis Bach (Radikale), was reluctant to agree that stopping business with retailers was the answer.
“We need to ensure that businesses and consumers are still buying clothes from Bangladesh,” Bach told Politiken newspaper. “Millions of women have come out of poverty and can take care of themselves instead of getting married at 12 years old. The work at clothing factories pulls hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty.”
Bach met with the minister of trade, Pia Olsen Dyhr (Socialistisk Folkeparti), as well as various trade organisations today to discuss solutions that would improve safety conditions for Bangladeshi workers without sacrificing jobs.
"The plan to make a partnership supporting more responsible textile production was made months ago. But the collapse of Rana Plaza was a terrible catastrophe which stresses the need for the government and the textile industry, in co-operation with workers' unions and human rights' organisations, to act right away," Olsen Dyhr said in a press release. "Today we have made a partnership and now we have to start finding out what we can do to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again, and ensure that the employees work under proper conditions."
As Politiken newspaper reported, the international advocacy organisation Clean Clothes Campaign has put increasing pressure on the Danish company Bestseller, which owns brands such as Only and Vero Moda and produces clothing in Bangladesh, to sign the agreement. While Bestseller has considered joining, it claimed that it manages its own inspections and sees the partnership “more of a political statement than an actual agreement".
“It is a good idea for NGOs and trade unions to work together. We can support that, but that doesn’t mean that we have to join it,” Mogens Werge, the head of communications for Bestseller, told Politiken newspaper. “We have not yet decided. We don’t feel that it’s necessary to join the agreement to be part of the partnership.”
According to Scott Nova, the head of the Worker Rights Consortium, one of the organisations pushing for the agreement, between 500 and 1,000 of Bangladesh’s 5,000 garment factories would be covered by the agreement.
“This agreement is exactly what is needed to finally bring an end to the epidemic of fire and building disasters that have taken so many lives in the garment industry in Bangladesh,” he told the Associated Press.
But many major US retailers, such as Wal-Mart, Gap Inc, and Target have also rejected the pact, many of whom cited concerns that the agreement would expose them to increased legal liability. Other international companies like H&M, Esprit and Abercrombie and Fitch have joined the agreement.