Two massive fires at garment factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan last year killed hundreds of workers, many trapped in buildings with inadequate or locked exits. A new report examining both horrific incidents finds that the deaths and injuries were “caused or exacerbated by illegal, unsafe buildings, faulty electrics or machinery, poor safety procedures and avoidable hazards such as blocked or inadequate fire exits.”
The report, Fatal Fashions, points out that workers’ lack of freedom to form unions and bargain collectively to improve working conditions underlies this deadly environment. “Under different conditions, worker representatives could be expected to address this issue with factory management, but in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, factory owners generally refuse to allow trade unions into their factories,” the report says.
“In countries with generally higher factory safety standards, experience proves that involvement of workers in safety committees, the availability of complaint procedures and the freedom to refuse work under unsafe conditions, has contributed to improved safety.”
The report presents company profiles of the factory owners, Ali Enterprises in Karachi, Pakistan and Tazreen Fashions in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and details accounts of the September and November 2012 fires and actions taken in their aftermath, including victim compensation. The report was produced by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and SOMO (Stichting Onderzoek Multinationale Ondernemingen), an organization that provides independent research for civil society organizations. Among the report’s findings:
• Bangladesh has only 80 inspectors in the entire country—including 20 inspectors for occupational health and safety—for 24,299 factories, 3 million shops and establishments, and two major ports.
• Many of the workers and families affected by the garment fires in Karachi and Dhaka have not yet received any compensation or have only received compensation that fails to cover the loss of income for the survivors and their families. Neither Bangladesh nor Pakistan has ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 121, which recommends a structured compensation plans for victims of workplace disaster.
• The legal minimum wage in both countries “does not equal a living wage.” Bangladesh garment workers are the lowest paid in the world, followed by those in Cambodia and Pakistan.
• Neither Bangladesh nor Pakistan has ratified ILO conventions on freedom of association or the right to a safe and healthy work environment.
In conclusion, the report states that the two cases “are not stand-alone incidents, but the result of systemic hazardous conditions in the garment industry in Pakistan and Bangladesh.” The fires “reflect systemic flaws on the level of government protection of human rights and lack of respect shown by the garment industry for workers’ rights.”
Read the full report.