Workers’ Voices and Safety in the Apparel Industry: Towards a New Phase of Social Safety Reforms

13:00-14:00 | 26 January | Washington, DC

Please join Representatives Rosa DeLauro, Sander M. Levin, Jan Schakowsky, and Jackie Speier for a briefing and discussion of strategies to protect workers’ right to have a say in their safety. The presentations will include the Capitol Hill launch of Our Voices, Our Safety: Bangladeshi Garment Workers Speak Out, a new report by the International Labor Rights Forum, and expert presentations on workers’ ability to secure their safety at work.

Speakers:

  • Sander M. Levin, U.S. Representative for Michigan
  • Jan Schakowsky, U.S. Representative for Illinois
  • Judy Gearhart, Executive Director, International Labor Rights Forum
  • Cathy Feingold, Director of International Affairs, AFL-CIO
  • Dalia Sikder, garment worker and President of union at Natural Apparels factory in Bangladesh (via video)

Moderator: Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women (NOW)

Two and a half years after the Rana Plaza building collapse and the launch of the first industrial reform programs to address the pervasive fire and structural hazards in Bangladeshi garment factories, workers report they will not be safe without a voice at work.  A new 100-page report, Our Voices, Our Safety: Bangladeshi Garment Workers Speak Out, describes a chilling web of social relations of intimidation and violence that spans factories and apparel companies, workers’ communities, government agencies, law enforcement, and even their families. The more than 70 workers interviewed for the report spoke passionately about the ways they and their coworkers were silenced, denied access to knowledge, excluded from meaningful participation in matters of their own safety, sometimes violently and brutally, often more subtly. Workers spoke about excessive production quotas and wages so low they are effectively trapped in abusive conditions, and about sexual harassment and abuse for which the victims are blamed.

Fire, electrical, and structural safety in garment factories is essential and will save lives. Yet the next phase of reforms must instill the lessons that respect for workers is as important to safety as are fire exits and additional reforms are needed to end the reprisals against workers who make their voices heard and promote safe working environments where factory owners and managers engage workers with mutual respect.

The tragedies in Bangladesh have been a wake-up call for the apparel industry and the risks that led to the industrial disasters are not unique to Bangladesh.  Globalization has generated intense competitive pressures on suppliers to deliver products on ever shorter deadlines and at low cost, thereby increasingly putting workers’ safety and welfare in jeopardy.  The briefing will provide recommendations relevant for the U.S. National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, the review of Bangladesh’s eligibility for trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences, and proposals for an ILO Convention on Gender-Based Violence at Work.

Date & time: 26 January 2016, 13:00-14:00

Venue: Cannon House Office Building, Room 234, Washington, DC, 20515

Registration: RSVP appreciated, but not required, to [email protected]