by Paul Garver
Editor’s Note: This article was submitted to the Democratic Left magazine’s labor issue but for reasons of space only is published as a blog post. Two other articles submitted to the magazine will follow in the next few weeks, as well as articles that also appear in the printed version.
Global retailers and brand name clothiers in Europe and the USA have taken advantage of unscrupulous local manufacturers, weak and unenforced labor laws and a corrupt political system to contract garment manufacture for their global supply chains. Facing the terrible consequences in thousands of deaths from the factory building collapse at Rana Plaza in Dhaka and the Tazreen factory fire, Bangladesh garment workers have begun to mobilize themselves, despite the virtual absence of national unions or an enforceable right to organize.
There are major differences between two strategies developed to address the most glaring worker safety and organizing issues – the “Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh” signed by most European retail chains and fashion brands with global unions IndustriALL and UNI and the unilateral declaration by American companies led by Gap, Target and Walmart of an “Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.” The Accord is being implemented by a joint committee representing companies and unions, chaired by a representative of the ILO. Disputes will be resolved by an arbitration process enforceable at law. The Alliance represents a continuation of unilateral voluntary company initiatives that have spectacularly failed to achieve any tangible results despite past promises. The Bangladesh workers’ movement, the AFL-CIO and the global unions, as well as the European and American campaign organizations in solidarity with garment workers (Clean Clothes Campaign, United Students against Sweatshops, Worker Rights Consortium, Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Network, Maquila Solidarity Network), urge American consumers to pressure Gap, Walmart and Target to abandon their phony public relations ploy and to join the innovative broad multilateral Accord that will provide leverage for Bangladesh garment workers to organize to improve their working and safety conditions.
Paul Garver, a member of DSA’s National Political Committee, is a retired global union organizer and co-editor of Talking Union.