Four years ago the world watched as 1,134 people lost their lives in the deadly Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. In the wake of the disaster, 200 brand name clothing retailers responded to public pressure by signing on to the more effective Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the less effective Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Both agreements bound the participating retailers to fund safety inspections and improvements at the Bangladeshi factories that supply them with product. The Alliance has already announced it would close its doors this year, despite ongoing safety concerns. Fortunately, the Accord members have agreed to a three-year renewal.
Long-term change in the garment industry requires a change from the current “race to the bottom” led by the brands to one where workers are protected. The new OHS Initiative for Workers and Community is promoting that fundamental shift from the bottom-up. The six member organizations will be holding worker trainings on a broad range of topics, and through the Initiative are expanding their knowledge of occupational health and safety issues. Initiative staff have been meeting with members since February to conduct needs assessments and develop targeted training materials in Bangla. OHS trainings with members will be more effective thanks to an understanding of the concerns of the majority women workforce, and the use of training materials that are already tested, such as Hesperian’s Workers’ Guide to Health and Safety.
This project is designed to provide a gender-sensitive, health-focused approach to workplace health and safety, and to avoid the duplication of efforts by already overextended grassroots organizations. The OHS Initiative, led by in-country staff with existing grassroots networks, is key to responding to the real conditions in Bangladeshi factories and improving Workers’ health and safety in Bangladesh.