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Is garment workers safety priority for apparel retailers?
Oct '12
The recent fire in a garment factory in Karachi – Pakistan which claimed the lives of nearly 300 workers, exposed the lax health and safety measures of the garment factories in low-cost garment manufacturing hubs like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia, India, etc.

A fire in an apparel factory which produced goods for a renowned retail brand in Bangladesh killed around 29 workers in March this year. Labour unions have alleged that around 500 workers have lost their lives to garment unit fires in the last five years. 

Cambodia - another Asian clothing production hub has witnessed mass fainting in the thousands mainly due to malnutrition, again mainly due to being paid half of the living wage in Cambodia.

According to the International labour Organisation (ILO), the causes for fainting are multiple factors like - excessive overtime, poor worker nutrition, poor ventilation, high heat levels and mass psychogenic illness.

Most of these garment factories churn out garments for renowned global brands and retailers like H&M, Levi Strauss, GAP, Topshop, Tchibo, Next, Adidas, Marks & Spencer, Tommy Hilfiger, Timberland, Debenhams, Sports Direct and hundreds of other brands.

Fibre2fashion spoke to a few of these apparel retailers in a bid to understand the commitments of these brands towards providing a congenial and safe environment to garment workers from where they source their clothing and fashion accessories.

According to Levi Strauss & Co., it was the first multinational apparel company to establish a comprehensive workplace code of conduct for our manufacturing suppliers in 1991. It says that its terms of engagement specify the requirements by which all its contract factories and licensees must abide — including strictly regulated health and safety standards.

It adds, “Over the years, we have learnt that while the factory assessment process is important, the key to lasting improvement in working conditions is for our suppliers themselves to understand and appreciate the importance of operating a responsible workplace”.

“We have established a strong program to assess how well our suppliers are meeting our code and on how to improve them on an ongoing basis”, Levis informs.

German retailer – Tchibo says that it is the second retailer worldwide to commit to a ground breaking fire safety program.

The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), IndustriALL Global Union, Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), together with Bangladeshi trade unions and labour rights groups, have reached an agreement with Tchibo to implement a fire and building safety programme in Bangladeshi garment factories.

Tchibo has initiated a project ‘WE’ – a dialogue-based approach to improve working conditions in Asian factories and establish social standards. ‘WE’ has been initiated as a development partnership between Tchibo GmbH and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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