On May 24th 2013 at approximately 9 a.m. an eight-story commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed causing the deaths of 1127 workers. The building housed a number of unpermitted garment factories which manufactured clothing for global brands, as well as companies in the USA. Building inspectors had noticed cracks a day earlier and reported these to the building owners. The reports were ignored, but the banks and shops closed the day of the collapse due to fear for their safety. The garment factories on the higher floors forced their workers back to work despite the possible danger. At the time of the collapse, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association believed that 3,122 workers were in the unpermitted factories. The building collapse was the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history.
Dhaka Factory Fire
Previous to the factory collapse in May 2013, there was a factory fire in Dhaka in November 2012. The fire at the none-story Tazreen Fashion factory killed 117 workers and injured over 200. The factory had already been flagged as unsafe by Walmart, which gave the facility an “orange” grade, which meant that there were violations and conditions which were deemed to be high risk. The fire started on the ground floor of the building and workers were unable to evacuate due to a lack of emergency exits and exits that had been locked by supervisors. After the fire it was found that the factory’s fire certificate had expired five months previously.
National Action Plan on Fire Safety
Subsequent to the Dhaka factory fire, the Bangladeshi government created a plan on preventing another factory fire incident. The plan was created to ensure an integrated approach to promote fire safety at the legislative level, administrative level, and by practical measures. The plan was to establish a task force on fire safety for the Ready-Made Garment Sector, as well as ensuring that all vacant inspectors’ positions are filled. Despite all the recommendations of the plan, another fire at a garment factory killed seven workers in Dhaka on May 7th, 2013.
After The Dhaka Factory Collapse
After the incident some of the companies that were using these factories as part of their supply chain were quick to react. Primark, an Irish clothing retailer, as well as other British companies, were reported to have sent representatives to Bangladesh to negotiate compensation. Under British law companies can be liable for claims from workers of manufacturing firms in their supply chain, despite the fact that they did not employ the worker directly. As a result of the incident a legally binding agreement was created to make working conditions safer for workers in Bangladeshi factories. Signees of the Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh agree to make sure “no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures”.
Accord on Factory and Building Safety
The Accord on Factory and Building Safety used the National Action Plan on Fire Safety as a starting point. Signatures to the accord would agree to ensure that their suppliers would submit to safety inspections, remediation and fire safety training. The inspections should be performed by a qualified Safety Inspector, with fire and building safety expertise who is independent of any of the signature companies, trade unions or factories.
If the safety inspector recommends remediation work then companies will require that factory to implement the corrective actions. Signatory companies will also make sure that their supplier factories respect the right of a worker to refuse work that they have reasonable justification to believe is unsafe, without suffering discrimination or loss of pay. This includes the right to refuse to enter or to remain inside a building that they have reasonable justification to believe is unsafe for occupation.
Despite almost forty companies signing the accord, including many European brands like Benetton, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Primark, and C&A, many US companies refuse to sign. Walmart, Sears, Target, and Macys are amongst the large number of US companies that will not sign the accord. These companies believe that they will suffer financially if a claim is made against them from workers in Bangladesh. US companies feel that they do not receive the same legal protection as companies under European law.