By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India, Jan 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In a victory for labour unions, a global clothing brand has agreed to pay $2.3 million to meet fire and building safety regulations in 150 garment factories across its supply chain in Bangladesh, unions said Monday.
The settlement is one the largest payments made by a brand to remedy workplace dangers in Bangladesh, the unions said in a statement.
Dangerous working conditions and low wages have long been a concern in Bangladesh's garment industry, which suffered one of the worst industrial accidents in 2013, when more than 1,100 people were killed in the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex.
The unions took the brand - which cannot be named under the terms of the settlement - to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, arguing the company had not made it financially feasible for its factories to fix safety issues, endangering the lives of thousands of workers.
From a lack of fire alarms, sprinkler systems and fire doors to not separating flammable materials from the factories' boiler rooms, the unions listed numerous safety lapses.
"The settlement makes real resources available to over 150 factories so they can finally make the necessary repairs that were needed years ago," Christy Hoffman of UNI Global Union said in a statement.
The settlement was reached through an arbitration process under the legally-binding Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety.
"Under the Accord, brands must shoulder some of the financial responsibility for fixing the Bangladeshi factories that manufacture their products," said Hoffman.
The brand will also contribute $300,000 to a fund created by UNI Global Union and IndustriAll Global Union to improve pay and conditions for workers in global supply chains.
The unions are fighting other similar cases and hope this brand's financial commitment will serve as an example for others to follow.
The Accord, established after the Rana Plaza disaster, has nearly 200 signatory clothing brands and retailers from over 20 countries, covering 2.5 million workers in Bangladesh's ready-made garment industry.
Accord inspectors have carried out inspections of more than 1,800 factories supplying over 200 brands, identifying over 118,500 fire, electrical, and structural hazards, unions said.
"Brands have never really accepted responsibility for the working conditions or said sorry for the numerous accidents that keep occurring in these factories," said Sultan Uddin Ahmed of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies.
"This is a good example because brands need to contribute to the improvement of workers' conditions," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Dhaka.
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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