Washington, DC (BBN)-Worker Rights Consortium recently revealed the impending hazardous working conditions in the garment manufacturing industry, particularly in Bangladesh, where economic and political pressures have exacerbated longstanding safety problems to a greater extent than in other countries.
Three of the four worst workplace tragedies in this particular industry have occurred during the last two years, said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium.
He was speaking at the June 4 session at AIHce 2014 in San Antonio and painted the grim picture of unsafe working conditions in the global apparel industry.
Two of these disasters, the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013, which resulted in more than 1,100 fatalities, and the Tazreen factory fire in December 2012, which killed over 100 workers, occurred in Bangladesh, Nova said.
In his presentation, Nova described how the underlying the worker safety problem in global apparel factories are the economic conditions that have led to ruthless competition, said an article of EHS Tday.
The majority of garment manufacturing is done by workers in low-wage countries.
Factories mostly are contract suppliers who have short-term relationships with global apparel brands like Wal-Mart and Gap, the presentation added.
A typical contract lasts until a specific order is fulfilled, and factories have no guarantees that they will receive a new contract.
Therefore, factory owners have little leverage to compete for contracts other than lowering their employees' wages; apparel workers in Bangladesh make the US equivalent of 31 cents an hour.
Pointing to Bangladesh Nova said, “It is the rock-bottom cheapest place in the world to make a shirt or a pair of jeans.”
An absence of worker empowerment and education, combined with an almost total lack of enforcement of building and safety codes, has created a very dangerous work environment for thousands of garment workers, according to Nova.
Inspectors have examined some 500 factories that are part of the voluntary Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, ordering 16 of them closed until the buildings could be made safe for occupancy.
During his presentation, Nova asked-“The question we are confronted with is: How is it possible with all of our knowledge that workers are dying en masse more than a century after Triangle Shirtwaist?”
In his presentation, Nova also described the economic, political and technical dynamics behind the workplace challenges, along with potential solutions and promising new models for worker protection.