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Rana Plaza 5th anniversary Swiss firms pressured to sign Bangladesh safety accord

woman in front of wreckage

Built illegally, the eight-storey Rana Plaza complex housed several garment factories before collapsing in 2013.

(AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Five years after the factory complex collapse that killed 1,138 textile workers in Bangladesh, 145 international brands have signed an accord to improve factory safety. Only one of them is Swiss. 

To mark the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, Swiss social justice NGO Public Eyeexternal link has written an open letterexternal link addressed to Swiss clothing retailers Chicorée, Coop, Mammut, Manor, Migros and Zebra. It urges them to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladeshexternal link

According to Public Eye, Bangladesh is the fourth leading source of clothing imported into Switzerland. The accord is the world’s first legally binding measure to improve workplace safety for the over two million garment workers there. On top of the 1,138 deaths, over 2,000 people were injured in the Rana Plaza accident on April 24, 2013. 

Under the accord, inspection teams have since screened over 1,600 factories and identified more than 118,500 dangers related to fire safety, electrical installations and structural issues. Some 83% of these problems have been resolved, reports Public Eye, formerly known as the Berne Declaration.

David Hachfeld, Public Eye’s Clean Clothes Campaignexternal link specialist, explains why the accord is a must-have.

Swiss measures 

Swiss-based teen clothier TALLY WEiJLexternal link signed the accord in 2014. On its website, the label writes that before signing, “With the help of independent experts, TALLY WEiJL examined all textile factories that they had business relationships with. When following the required safety standards, TALLY WEiJL guarantees the factories in Bangladesh long-term contracts in return.”

Asked why it had not signed the accord, Swiss retailer Coopexternal link – which sells various brands of clothing and soft furnishings – told that its few own-label textiles come from “a handful of carefully selected suppliers in Bangladesh” and that it has always taken responsibility for implementing sustainability standards directly. 

“Suppliers in Bangladesh are regularly monitored by means of Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) audits. In addition, prior to the accord, we rigorously conducted building audits with our suppliers and closely followed any corrective action in the event of defects,” Coop spokesman Ramón Gander said. 

Similarly, Swiss outdoor label Mammutexternal link explained why it hadn’t signed the accord. 

“Mammut is systematically committed to the comprehensive improvement of working conditions and occupational safety. For this purpose, Mammut – together with the Fair Wear Foundationexternal link, production partners and local groups – has built up a substantial control and management system over the past ten years,” replied Mammut in a statement. 

Public Eye argues that such individual and voluntary measures are “at best a supplement, but certainly not a substitute for the industry-wide and legally binding building safety agreement”.

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