Friday, October 11, 2013

Unnecessary Tragedy in the Bangladesh Garment Industry

The news of more unnecessary deaths in the Bangladesh garment industry is distressing and requires action by the international community.  At least 10 people have perished in a fire at the Aswad Knit Composite factory, with the clear implication that the fire and safety measures at the factory were grossly inadequate. 

This follows the collapse of a garment factory in April which killed over 1100 people.

While building and factory owners in Bangladesh must be held to account for these tragedies, Western companies and consumers bear some responsibility.  While we continue to seek ever cheaper clothes, mindless of the conditions in which they are produced, tragedies of this nature will continue.

There are simple steps that companies and consumers in Australia can take. 

Many Australian companies have taken positive and responsible steps to promote improved health and safety standards in the Bangladesh garment industry. 

Indeed, more than 80 countries have signed up to the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord.  Companies like Cotton On, Kmart, Target, Forever New and the Specialty Fashion Group have committed to this Accord.  I encourage other companies to join them by signing up to the Accord, and follow through with its implementation in Bangladesh.

The $20 billion garment industry is an important part of the South Asian economy, providing employment to hundreds of thousands of workers.

Free trade has contributed to lifting of millions of people out of poverty.  But free trade does not and should not embrace factories that disregard fire and safety regulations, such as the factory that collapsed in April due to the illegal addition of three extra stories.  Our commitment to free trade must be coupled with an equal commitment to fair and ethical trade.  I am confident that Australians, with their sense of a fair go, are more interested in preventing tragedies of this nature than saving a few cents on a shirt.

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