Rana Plaza Tragedy: FIDH and ODHIKAR formally trigger the United Nations to clearly set out the responsibilities of all actors involved in human rights abuses in the garment sector of Bangladesh

FIDH and Odhikar, its member organization in Bangladesh, submitted yesterday a request to the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights to look into the working conditions and labour rights of garment workers in Bangladesh.

On 24 April, the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, housing 5 garment factories, caused the death of more than 1,100 persons. This was just the last of a series of tragedies that brought to light widespread violations of international standards as well as domestic labour laws in Bangladesh. The most obvious are related to breaches of occupational health and safety standards.

Such tragedies could be avoided if all concerned stakeholders discharged their respective responsibilities to ensure respect for human rights in factories integrated into global supply chains. FIDH and Odhikar recall that the State of Bangladesh is the first obliged to protect human rights in the country. According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, multinationals sourcing in Bangladesh must also ensure safe and fair working conditions that comply with internationally recognized human rights throughout their entire supply chain, independently of the State’s abilities and/or willingness to fulfill (its) own obligations.

Human rights abuses throughout the garment sector supply chain have been recored for long. However, in spite of a number of multi-stakeholder initiatives, these have continued. Several international brands have for the past days announced their decision to sign a legally binding Agreement on Fire and Safety in Bangladesh, with the global unions IndustriALL and UNI, as well as Bangladeshi unions. This agreement, which provides for independent safety inspections, has the potential to improve workers’ freedom of association and recognizes workers’ right not to enter the working place in case of hazardous conditions. FIDH welcomes this first step and calls on all concerned stakeholders to immediately upgrade the security conditions in factories and more generally to respect fundamental labour rights in Bangladesh.

The state of the garment sector in Bangladesh is particularly emblematic of human rights abuses occurring throughout global supply chains. In order to discharge its mandate, FIDH and Odhikar believe that the UN Working Group should look into situations where there is a pattern of abuses or long-standing abuses linked to corporate activity and whose analysis would enable to draw lessons that could be applicable to other situations.

To begin with, FIDH and Odhikar request the Working Group to undertake a country visit to Bangladesh, which is essential to understand the ground reality, to the articulation effective solutions and to clarify the responsibilities of the various stakeholders, including the government of Bangladesh, multinational corporations and their suppliers, as well as multinationals’ home states , in order to bring an end to human rights violations linked to business activities in the garment sector in Bangladesh, and improve access to remedies for the victims. FIDH and Odhikar call on the Working Group to engage with all affected groups, including workers and in particular women workers, but also trade unions, relevant authorities, the International Labour Organization (ILO), garment sector federations, and businesses sourcing in Bangladesh.

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