The EU has appealed to the Bangladeshi authorities to immediately improve the working conditions and factory safety bringing the apparel plants in line with international labor standards. In a joint statement, which was released on January 30, Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Karel De Gucht, European Commissioner for Trade, deplore the deaths of workers from a fire in an apparel factory in Dhaka. According to the press release, “the European Union is deeply concerned about the labour conditions, including health and safety provisions, established for workers in factories across the country”. Moreover, the EU offers its support to the Bangladeshi authorities “in any way” to meet these international labour standards. The European companies, on the contrary, should also place more emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility to ensure better health and safety standards in the apparel plants.
Seven young workers died in a fire at a garment factory in Dhaka on January 26, which was producing clothing for Inditex and several French brands. An AFP reporter found European labels such as Bershka, Sol’s, Scott and Fox and G Blog. This factory fire is just the latest in a long series in Bangladesh. The urge for better safety conditions was already prompted by a fire when 112 garment workers were killed in the Tezreen apparel plant in late November 2012. The Tezreen fire marks as the worst factory blaze in the history of Bangladesh. Since 2006, around 700 garment workers have been killed due to factory fires, most of the victims found the fire exits locked with a bolt.
Working conditions in Bangladesh are poor, as many plants operate on an illegal basis without having a license and clearance from the fire department. Western retailers already criticized the conditions of the Bangladeshi garment plants for not complying with safety rules, but the major Western brands still place orders. Besides the EU demanding for better working and safety conditions in the garment plants, international labor right groups also ask the Western retailers to change the working and safety conditions in Bangladesh. Firstly, Western retailers should join a labor-supported legal agreement to avoid these deadly incidents. Secondly, the labor right groups urge the Western retailers to invest in the renovations of the Bangladeshi garment plants. To date, only Philips- Van Heusen, an American clothing company, and Tchibo, a German retailer, have committed not to cooperate with unsafe garment plants and to finance renovations.
Currently, Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of ready-made garments, next to China. The garment industry is one of the Bangladesh’s economic mainstays, as Bangladesh’s exports amounts to 80 percent of annual exports. The largest trading partner of Bangladesh is the EU and Bangladesh benefits from the preferential market access to the European market.