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UN Working Group: Business Obligations Include Well-Being of Workers

Business  (tags: humanrights, humans, ethics, death, 'HUMANRIGHTS!', 'CIVILLIBERTIES!', society, usa, UnitedNations, unitednations, abuse, business, consumers, corporate, dishonesty, corruption, ethics, humans, investing, investments, investors, law, lies, marketing, mone )

- 1757 days ago -
The Bangladesh garment-factory collapse highlights the need for businesses to follow the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, writes Z.P. Heller.The principles say that businesses have an obligation to protect the well-being of

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JL A (282)
Saturday May 25, 2013, 6:13 pm
Lessons from Bangladesh
By ZP Heller | May 16, 2013

Rescuers and salvage workers have concluded a frantic search for victims in Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza, an eight-story garment factory complex that collapsed on April 24, killing an estimated 1,127 people. Sadly, there will be no more miraculous stories of survival like that of Reshma Begum, the 19-year-old seamstress who was pulled from the rubble 17 days after the collapse. Instead, the United Nations and leading experts like Muhammad Yunus are urging the international community to address this catastrophe’s underlying causes.

The tragedy in Bangladesh was the world’s deadliest industrial accident since the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, and the deadliest in the history of the garment industry. Yet considering the UN estimates that Bangladesh’s garment industry employs 3 to 5 million workers, the chances of more accidents like this occurring appear high unless adequate measures are taken. In fact, there was another factory incident even more recently—a fire that killed nine people. That is why the UN Working Group on business and human rights is calling upon global clothing companies to vastly improve working conditions in Bangladeshi factories.

bangladesh-1Muhammad Yunus, father of the global microcredit movement and founder of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, being honored by the UN Office for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. (UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz)

“We strongly urge international clothing brands sourcing from Bangladesh to address human rights risks in their supply chains with the involvement of workers, other relevant stakeholders, and human rights experts, and to share publicly what they are doing to mitigate their risks,” said Pavel Sulyandziga, the head of the five-expert Working Group, which the Human Rights Council established in 2011.

The disaster has prompted thousands of Bangladeshi workers to march through the nation’s capital of Dhaka—not far from the industrialized suburb of Savar, where Rana Plaza was located—forcing hundreds of factories to close. Meanwhile, the international community has shared this outrage, criticizing retail giants for conducting business in one of the world’s most impoverished countries. Pope Francis even described working conditions in Bangladesh as “slave labor.”

Such negative publicity has led to international corporations like the Walt Disney Companyannouncing they are pulling production from Bangladeshi factories. Yet the Working Group is imploring these businesses—which helped create Bangladesh’s flourishing but unregulated garment industry—to utilize their unique position and upgrade conditions, both for workers and factories alike.
The Working Group’s Recommendations

The Working Group is recommending massive collaboration between western corporations, the Bangladeshi government, civil society groups and international organizations to establish an infrastructure and standards regarding worker safety and welfare.

While the Rana Plaza complex apparently had been audited, the building’s structural issues were either ignored or omitted. The building itself had been constructed illegally and reportedly revealed large cracks in the days prior to the collapse. On the morning of the collapse, such visible cracks even made workers reluctant to enter the building. Moreover, the auditing system that major clothing companies utilize has been widely criticized.

bangladesh-2Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (third from right) meeting with Md. Shahidul Haque (left center), Foreign Secretary, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of Bangladesh in March. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

By contrast, the Working Group is strongly recommending that the global garment industry adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Such principles clearly state the obligations that businesses and governments have for the well-being of workers.

According to Sulyandziga, “Human rights due diligence helps business understand better their impact on human rights throughout their value chains.” He added, “The UN Guiding Principles also spell out what to do when risks are discovered: identify your leverage and ability to work in partnership with other businesses, local authorities, workers and civil society to work towards sustainable solutions.”
Yunus’s Words of Wisdom

The Working Group’s recommendations echoed the sentiments of Muhammad Yunus, the 72-year-old Nobel laureate who hails from Bangladesh and founded the Grameen Bank there three decades ago.

“For Bangladeshis, the tragedy at the garment factory in Savar is a symbol of our failure as a nation. The crack that caused the collapse of the building has shown us that if we don’t face up to the cracks in our own systems, we as a nation will get lost in the debris,” Yunus wrote this week in an impassioned editorial in The Guardian. “Today, the souls of those who lost their lives in Rana Plaza are watching what we are doing and listening to what we say. The last breath of those souls surrounds us.”

Yunus cautioned international firms against leaving Bangladesh, maintaining it would lead to complete social and economic failure. “This industry has brought about immense change in our society by transforming the lives of women,” said Yunus. “We cannot allow it to be destroyed.” Not only is Yunus asking foreign corporations to remain in Bangladesh to improve working conditions from within, but he is also urging these businesses to help create an international minimum wage for factory workers.

“This might be about 50 cents an hour, twice the level typically found in Bangladesh. This minimum wage would be an integral part of reforming the industry, which would help to prevent future tragedies,” Yunus contended. “We have to make international companies understand that while the workers are physically in Bangladesh, they are contributing their labour to the businesses: they are stakeholders. Physical separation should not be grounds to ignore the well-being of this labour.”

The vast majority of Bangladesh’s exports­—80 percent—come from its $18 billion garment industry. However, according to the World Bank, Bangladesh ranked last in wages for factory workers worldwide in 2010.

What would this mean for western consumers who have benefitted from Bangladesh’s cheap labor? Yunus believes establishing a minimum wage would amount to only miniscule increase in product cost.

“Would a consumer in a shopping mall feel upset if they were asked to pay $35.50 instead of $35? My answer is no, they won’t even notice,” Yunus said. “If we could create a Garment Workers Welfare Trust in Bangladesh with that additional 50 cents, we could resolve most of the problems workers face—safety, work environment, pensions, health care, housing, their children's health, education, childcare, retirement, old age and travel. Everything could be taken care of through this trust.”

Amazingly, upgrading factory conditions might not even cost that much. As ThinkProgress reported recently, the Worker Rights Consortium estimates that adding a mere 10 cents onto the price of the 7 billion garments that Bangladesh exports annually would generate more than enough funds to overhaul factories and install proper safety equipment.

And as for how this minimal surcharge would impact buyers—if such a conversation can be had when discussing conditions for Bangladeshi factory workers still reeling from this tragedy—Yunus believes buyers would be even more willing to purchase an article of clothing knowing that the company manufacturing it could guarantee its workers well-being.

“Consumers would be proud to support the product and the company,” Yunus concluded, “rather than feeling guilty about wearing a product made under harsh working conditions.”

Past Member (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 3:34 am
If these companies care about people and not just money then they will all pull their weight and do something to make life for these workers better

Noted thanks

Kerrie G (118)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 6:27 am
Noted, thanks.

JL A (282)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 7:43 am
You are welcome Carol and Kerrie.
You cannot currently send a star to Carol because you have done so within the last day.

Kit B (276)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 9:54 am

Accidents or just plain old ignoring of the safety of employees is what led to Labor Unions. We have to give credit to the many corporations and a long war on unions leading to the success of today's dangerous work place and the terrible injustice of low pay. I hope these lives will be remembered and maybe the best way is the resurgence of labor unions.


JL A (282)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 10:04 am
You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last day.

. (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 11:25 am
Workers should be protected and not ignored.

JL A (282)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 11:55 am
You cannot currently send a star to Laura because you have done so within the last day.

. (0)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 12:52 pm
I've been saying for years that if you pay your workers fairly; give them good benefits your productivity level will maintain itself. A happy worker is a productive worker.

Theodore Shayne (56)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 1:50 pm
Noted but we are talking about the UN aren't we?

Judith Hand (55)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 1:59 pm
Noted. That workers' protection is a new concept is sickening. That anyone has to quibble over 50 cents is sickening!.That a fair minimum wage is arguable is sickening. I guess I'm glad that at least someone is working on these issues. {It's not a fair comparison, but it brings to mind the "1% vs the 99%" debacle in the States}.

Dianna M (16)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 2:16 pm
I particularly liked the last two paragraphs. Unfortunately, greed and penny-pinching go hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to worker safety. After all, we can always hire more workers. Our labor pool will never be depleted, especially after we flood the market with cheap Viagra and take away women's birth control. Got too many in the labor pool? WAR! HUH! THAT'S WHAT IT'S GOOD FOR! (Except if you're thinking of sending some CEO's kid over, then that's different. Right, Mittens?)

JL A (282)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 2:57 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last day.
You cannot currently send a star to Jude because you have done so within the last day.

Katrina & Willi D (90)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 7:56 pm
Thank You

JL A (282)
Sunday May 26, 2013, 8:31 pm
You are welcome Bill and Katie

paul m (93)
Monday May 27, 2013, 4:16 am


Birgit W (160)
Monday May 27, 2013, 5:22 am

Aaron Bouchard (158)
Monday May 27, 2013, 7:31 am
Noted thanks

JL A (282)
Monday May 27, 2013, 7:34 am
You are welcome Aaron.

S S (0)
Monday May 27, 2013, 8:01 am
Thank you.

JL A (282)
Monday May 27, 2013, 8:03 am
You are welcome Shanti.

Winn A (179)
Monday May 27, 2013, 12:35 pm
I'm in a union and I'm glad for it.

Antonio Calabria PhD (17)
Monday May 27, 2013, 1:19 pm
Posted to FB, Twitter. What a scandal!

Sergio Padilla (65)
Sunday June 9, 2013, 3:58 pm

JL A (282)
Sunday June 9, 2013, 4:12 pm
You are welcome Sergio

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes (82)
Monday July 18, 2016, 10:29 pm
July 18, 2016 Update from the Guardian - "Rana Plaza collapse: 38 charged with murder over garment factory disaster" - "Three defendants also charged for helping complex owner Sohel Rana flee after incident in which five garment factories fell in 2013, killing 1,135 people"
Excerpt: "Of the 41 people charged, 35, including Rana, appeared before the court and pleaded not guilty, Mannan told reporters. The other six are fugitives and will be tried in absentia.

If convicted, defendants could face the death penalty."

Amazing, that they're only coming to trial now, three years later!

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes (82)
Monday July 18, 2016, 10:31 pm
The 'Mannan' quoted above is public prosecutor Abdul Mannan.
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