Bangladesh on the mend? (and how legal reliance might matter)

Is Bangladesh on the Mend? It’s hard to tell, but the recent fire in a Bangladesh factory, raises questions about what has changed since the factory collapse that killed over 1,000 workers in April this year.

The establishment of the Bangladesh Accord, a group of mostly non-Bangladesh (and mostly European-based) companies seeking to improve worker safety and conditions, is having some success, but it’s not clear if the Accord will be effective. With now over 100 members, it must be slightly disappointing to see fires and other safety incidents still killing workers.

Of course, there is an alternative industry group, Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety,which is also non-Bangldesh companies, although this team with a distinctly North American focus.

This might an example of competition creating a spiral of virtue, but the paths of the two organisations aren’t the same. The Accord is a legally enforceable agreement, while the Alliance is not. In practice it might not make much difference, but it seems likely that some of the Alliance companies will at some point take advantage of the cost savings by not complying or not complying to the same extent as other companies.

Particularly when the reach of the US Alien Torts Claims Act was recently interpreted to mean that workers like those in Bangladesh usually wont be able to bring claims against US companies in the US.

There are also competition law issues which may intervene in the process and mean that neither group is able to achieve the sort of reform that would reduce deaths in the Bangladesh garment industry.

But the success or otherwise of the Alliance and the Accord relies heavily on support by the Bangladesh government and the garment manufacturing companies. It is not clear that there is real change afoot, and none is possible without support from at least those three groups.

An article by the Ethical Trade Initiative, Is Bangladesh’s new minimum wage enough?, discusses whether raises to minimum wage (to $100 per month) is affecting the lives of workers there. That is one of the many initiatives that are a direct result of pressure to change practice in the Bangladesh clothing industry.

I continue to watch with interest.


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