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24 Apr 2021

Sanchita Banerjee Saxena, The Daily Star

Bangladesh: Unequal power dynamics between global brands, suppliers and garment workers undermine labour rights, livelihoods and health & absolve brands of responsibility for worker safety

“Beyond the Accord”, 24 April 2021

... After the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, the international response concentrated on technocratic approaches to address the lack of worker safety measures by focusing on fire, electrical, and structural improvements … we must ask ourselves eight years later, are garment workers in Bangladesh safer now than they were before?

Researchers … have found that since 2013, there have been improvements in certain workers' outcome standards … and process rights …

Despite these gains, however, due to the power dynamics between the various actors in the industry and the difficult nature of the work itself, garment workers (female garment workers in particular) continue to face sexual harm and suffering, gendered industrial discipline practices (including physical violence, verbal abuse, coercion, and threats), severe health consequences, barriers to freedom of association and collective bargaining, low wages, long working hours, and retaliation for reporting abuses.

Unfortunately since 2013, the focus has been on a very narrow definition of what constitutes safety for the millions of garment workers in the industry … this … has been dangerous because it has lulled us into complacency and absolved global brands of real responsibility…

This global pandemic has put a glaring spotlight on the unequal power dynamics that were always present in the system…

This limited definition of what constitutes safety for garment workers has resulted in narrow and incomplete interventions over the decades and particularly over the last eight years, which have not only been inadequate, but have also been harmful … In order to make a real difference for workers working in garment factories around the world, they must experience "safety" in the fullest sense of the word—a definition, if fully understood, would be one that would encompass protections to their health, wellbeing, and livelihoods.