Jahangir Alam and Nura Alam

Jahangir Alam and Nura Alam are seriously lucky to be alive. Their injuries are appalling. They were in the collapsed  garment factory in Savar last year when sixty four people died and seventy injured. Jahangir (left) broke a bone in his back and has kidney and leg problems. Nura (right) lost his arm. Remember that incident? Of course you do but it seems that despite the terrible tragedy and the consequences for many of the workers, there has been little headway in terms of compensation, severance pay and other demands of the workers. Now why is it that I don’t find that in the least bit suprising? The two workers here are in Europe (8-19th February) to press big name companies like Carrefour and Zara to do something about the plight of the Spectrum Garment Factory workers and wider issues of “compliance” in the garment sector.

There are fears that Bangladesh could lose trade if it fails “to comply with a common code of conduct developed by the global buyers.” Read HERE. That report by Shamsul Huq Zia in the Financial Express also points out that the various stakeholders - the government and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association in particular - are far from being on top of all this.

Well certainly judging by this report the Commerce Minister Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Altaf Hossain Chowdhury’s attention on last monday was elsewhere when he praised the performance of the Bangladesh export processing zones. His main focus seems to be the bottom line of the accounting sheet and certainly not the working conditions of the workers. Nevertheless his ministry does get a good write up in the Multi-Fibre Agreement Forum (Ethical Trading Initiative) website. This is what they had to say almost a year ago (and I just wonder what the garment workers make of it…)

The Bangladesh Government has committed to expand the brief of the newly formed National Forum on Social Compliance – a body charged with improving working conditions in the textiles and garments industry - to include not only government and textile and garment manufacturers, but also trade unions, NGOs, global brands and retailers and UN agencies the World Bank and UNDP. This is an unprecedented action in a country that depends on trade in textiles and garments.

ETI press release 3 June 2005

Unprecented action? And what has happened since June 2005? Precisely what did the government commit to?