UNI Global Union Holds Corporations in Bangladesh Accountable

August 16, 2013

Many MoveUP members watched the news intently after the horrifying and tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh earlier this year, which killed over 1,100 garment workers and injured thousand more. MoveUP is a member organization of UNI Global Union, one of the international labour organizations that has been central to the post-tragedy push to hold multinational garment retailers accountable for the conditions their workers in Bangladesh face. Another global labour body MoveUP belongs to, IndustriALL, has also been heavily involved.

Their success in getting massive retailers like H&M, Loblaw (includes Joe Fresh), Esprit, and Target Australia to sign on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh has been a significant victory and there are high hopes for substantial improvements in working conditions. The Accord is focused on implementing safety inspections, remediation and fire safety training at Bangladesh factories, as well as ensuring workers have the right to refuse work they reasonably consider to be unsafe.

It follows an attempt by many (mostly) American companies, including Wal-Mart, to sign on to the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a more symbolic agreement created by business organizations instead of labour. The Alliance statement is lacking in many ways: it covers less than half as many factories as the UNI-led Accord, and even more importantly does not allow a worker protection against discipline or discrimination if they refuse to do unsafe work.

As a Forbes article from earlier this week states:

Indeed, labor groups like the UNI Global Union went on immediate counterattack, excoriating the agreement as essentially toothless and, for want of third-party monitoring, a “sham.” Meanwhile, in early July, 80 retail companies (only three of them American) signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to fund substantial safety improvements. The refusal of American companies to join the Accord was likewise excoriated, when, for instance, UNI spokespeople claimed that the provisions would only add two or three pennies to the cost of a tee-shirt. […]

Post Rana Plaza, unions like UNI – a global federation launched in 2000 with more than 900 affiliated unions and 20 million members in 140 countries – have already achieved two fundamental strategic advantages. First, they have gotten the companies to compete in labor’s ballpark, to acknowledge responsibility, to play defense. But second, they’ve set up the game so that CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] can be used against the corporations themselves.

The more companies that sign on to the Accord, the more successful it will be. If you’d like to help, you can take a minute to sign a letter calling on Wal-Mart and the Gap to sign on. You can also visit Facebook pages for companies like Wal-Mart, Gap, The Bay, Target, Sears and Canadian Tire – or tweet to them – politely asking they sign on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

You can also thank the companies that have already signed on. See the full list of signatories to the labour-driven accord here: http://www.industriall-union.org/bangladesh-safety-accord-implementation-moving-forward.