Ten years after Rana Plaza: Workers Submit Complaint

Germany – Supply chains – Rana Plaza

10 Years after the devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory, in which more than 1,100 people died, numerous companies have yet to sign either the Bangladesh Accord (the accord on building and fire safety in Bangladesh) or its successor, the International Accord. The accord is considered to be the only functional mechanism for the improvement of workplace safety worldwide.

Since January 2023, two of these companies – Amazon and IKEA – have fallen under the purview of the German Supply Chain Act. Therefore, garment workers in the Bangladeshi factories of these companies filed the first complaint with the German Federal Office of Economic Affairs and Export Control: the factories have not been adequately monitored, endangering workplace safety for employees. Together with FEMNET, ECCHR is supporting the Bangladeshi union National Garments Workers Federation (NGWF) with the complaint.

Case

In the course of fact-finding research conducted in March 2023, the Bangladeshi union NGWF discovered safety deficiencies in the factories of Tom Tailor, Amazon and IKEA. The companies were informed repeatedly by civil society organizations and unions about the risks to health and safety in factories in Bangladesh and other manufacturing countries. Despite their awareness of existing dangers, they have still not yet signed the accord.

Since 1 January 2023, Amazon and IKEA have been subject to the German Supply Chain Act, which means they are legally obligated to protect people and the environment within their supply lines. Those who refuse to sign the accord are deliberately avoiding their responsibility to prevent known human rights risks within the textile industry and are thus in breach of their due diligence duties.

Represented by the NGWF and with the support of FEMNET and ECCHR, affected workers filed a complaint with BAFA in April 2023.

Already in November 2022, FEMNET and ECCHR addressed Tom Tailor, Deichmann, IKEA and Amazon in an open letter, demanding that these companies sign the accord and fulfill their due diligence responsibilities in the areas of occupational health and safety.

Context

The collapse of Rana Plaza highlighted the failure of voluntary corporate responsibility initiatives. In response, the Bangladesh Accord was introduced and has since become the most successful tool globally for improving occupational safety and health.

Since its inception, the accord has helped avert preventable disasters in the garment industry. Tens of thousands of identified safety hazards have since been eliminated, workers have been trained and informed, and a grievance mechanism has been established to give workers a voice to address workplace safety issues.

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Glossary (1)

Definition

Due diligence

Due diligence is a common concept in corporate risk management systems. The idea of corporate human rights due diligence (HRDD) is set out in the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. HRDD obligations refer to a company’s duty to carry out ongoing risk management to determine if its business practices could potentially adversely affect human rights. This includes risks to all those who could be negatively affected by a corporation's actions (e.g. employees, consumers, and persons who could be affected by environmental harm).

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Insight

Textile industry

The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in April 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the fire at Ali Enterprises in Karachi, Pakistan in September 2012 are two particularly drastic examples of the inhumane working conditions endured in southern Asia by those producing goods for the European market. Payment below the living wage, excessive overtime hours on six to seven days per week, workplace abuse and discrimination, repression of trade unions and frequent workplace accidents and fire disasters: this is the sad reality faced by millions of workers in South and East Asia. European companies aggravate the already poor conditions by demanding low prices and tough deadlines. This pressure is passed along to the workers by the factory owners.
 
European companies do require their suppliers to comply with codes of practice and hire certification firms to monitor working conditions. What the Ali Enterprises case shows, however, is that this kind of auditing and certification is wholly unsuitable for effecting meaningful improvement in the lives of local workers. This situation makes it all the more important to establish what liability is borne by certification firms and by companies like German clothing discounter KiK.

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