Fast fashion, fair wages: Vietnam’s lesson to Bangladesh


AFP, May 2, 2013 

Relations hit a sour note: Fashion brand Mango placed orders for clothing items this year at one of the factories housed in the now collapsed building in Bangladesh.

Relations hit a sour note: Fashion brand Mango placed orders for clothing items this year at one of the factories housed in the now collapsed building in Bangladesh. Photo: AFP

 

From factory fires to slave labour, the growth of mass manufacturing in South East Asia has not been problem-free, but having shed its “sweatshop” reputation, the region could have lessons for Bangladesh.

The building collapse near Dhaka last week that left 550 dead and missing has unleashed global consternation over conditions in the factories that produce fast fashion — cheap, catwalk-inspired clothes — for top global brands.

Amid talk of consumer boycotts, Bangladesh needs to reform its industry before fashionistas wonder “if they should be wearing blood-stained dresses”, Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity told AFP.

Communist Vietnam — which produces clothes for disposable fashion industry giants Zara, Mango and H&M — shows it is possible to have “extremely strong” labour laws, fair wages and a healthy garment industry, experts say.

“It is not a race to the bottom here,” Tara Rangarajan, program manager of the International Labour Organisation‘s Better Work project in Vietnam, told AFP.

“Sweatshops are part of a short term, immediate payback, low cost strategy. (Vietnam wants to) be competitive in the long term on something besides just cheap labour,” so it is trying to enforce and improve its laws, she added.

Buyers are attracted to Vietnam — where wages are some three times higher than Bangladesh — if “they have reputations they are trying to maintain”, she added.

Garment exports, worth $3.1 billion in the first quarter of 2013, were up 18.3 percent year on year. The government’s “number one priority” is boosting technology, Vietnamese legal expert Nguyen Dinh Huan told AFP.

In contrast, Bangladesh has “specialised in low cost production” and embraced the sweatshop model rather than investing in technology and upgrading, said Nayla Ajaltouni coordinator of the Collectif Ethique sur l’etiquette.

“The industry has grown very quickly, (which) is why we’re seeing this concentration of chronic health and safety issues,” she told AFP.

Outrage over the recent building collapse could prove a turning point, she said. Minimum wages were increased in Bangladesh in 2011 “not for philanthropic reasons but because protests were starting to disturb the supply chain”.

“It is a bit cynical but this disaster is also a critical point where brands can be pushed to move forward — by the media, by citizens,” she added.

In Thailand, standards in factories improved significantly after a fire at a toy factory killed 188 people in 1993, although activists say conditions particularly in smaller factories can still be problematic.

In Cambodia, where the garment industry developed in the 1990s, avoiding the “sweatshop” label was a conscious strategy, with the country embracing an ILO Better Factories program — which union leaders say has only been minimally effective.

Several thousands of garment workers marched in the capital Phnom Penh on Wednesday to mark May Day and demand better pay and working conditions.

But Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh, said that Bangladesh “already has world class factories… some buyers just avoid placing orders there to maximise their profits”.

The trouble is “consumers are never really presented the real relationship between cheap clothes and labour abuses and health and safety standards, because of marketing, branding,” said Anne Elizabeth Moore, an award-winning author.

“In this set-up, buyers really aren’t motivated to care about labour issues unless they’re going for the altruism dollar, which is a long shot,” Moore, who has written extensively on the global garment industry, told AFP.

But attention on the recent accident in Bangladesh “is pressuring all companies, whether they were in that building or not, to tighten their supply chain — which is good,” said one Hong Kong-based manager with a global fashion brand who did not want to be named as her company policy bars her from talking to the media.

“But ultimately buyers cannot go in and change the system in Bangladesh. (The government) needs to take responsibility,” the manager added, pointing out that unlike Vietnam, Dhaka neither imposes a standard annual minimum wage increase nor allows garment workers to unionise.

Unless standards improve, Dhaka also needs to realise that its cash-cow industry — which accounts for some 80 percent of export earnings — is at risk, she said.

“A lot of buyers are looking into Myanmar, Kenya, Ethiopia. They don’t see Bangladesh as a long term hub anymore… there are too many problems.”

Mango has been recognised for revolutionising the global fashion industry, alongside brands such as Zara and Top Shop, by providing fast, affordable and accessible fashion to the masses. Mango shifts about 30,000 pieces of clothing an hour in stores across 109 countries.

But the national manager of Ethical Clothing Australia, Simon McRae, criticised the concept of ”fast fashion”, saying it put additional strain on garment factories already under pressure in developing countries and increased the chance of more disasters like the one in Bangladesh.

More than 300 garment factory workers were killed in factory fires between 2006 and 2009, and a further 79 workers died in 21 separate accidents in 2010, a report by the Clean Clothes Campaign showed. More than 100 were killed in a factory fire last November.

Michele O’Neil from the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia said Bangladesh was the world’s most dangerous place to work for a clothes maker.

”Western clothing brands have the ultimate responsibility for the conditions their stock is made in,” she said.

”The companies are really looking for the cheapest labour force in the world.”

 

bur-ceb/ao/dwa

IMMEDIATE RELEASE—WGHR STATEMENT ON ARMED FORCES (SPECIAL POWERS) ACT


WGHR STATEMENT ON
ARMED FORCES (SPECIAL POWERS) ACT

New Delhi, 27 August 2012 – When the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special
Powers Bill was introduced in the LokSabha in August 1958, MP Mahanty of Dhenkanal
raised a point of order stating that “we cannot proceed with this Bill unless certain
constitutional obligations imposed under article 352(1) of the constitution are fulfilled” as
certain parts of the bill directly come under emergency provisions of the Indian Constitution.
The then Union Home Minster Mr. G. B. Pant justified the bill arguing that “the local
Government may make use of the army, if it so chooses in the manner provided in this
Bill, and can use the army only for this limited purpose, and thereafter the ordinary
processes of law are to be followed”.
Today, 54 years have gone by “the ordinary processes of law” is yet to replace the “special
powers” in many part of the country. In fact the application of the “special powers” has been
steadily spreading ever since. The “disturbed areas” confined to only the Naga Hills in1950s
spread to Lushai Hill in1960s, to Tripura and Imphal valley in 1970s, Brahmaputra valley and
Punjab in 1980s and Kashmir valley in 1990s. In these areas, the fundamental rights such as
the right to life, the right to a fair trial, the right to remedy and reparation, the right against
torture and the right against arbitrary detention (as well as a series of economic, social and
cultural rights) have been consistently violated.
The exercise of special powers have also gone way beyond the “limited purpose” that the
Home Minister proposed as the military stationed in the ‘disturbed areas’ embarks upon its
mission to “win the hearts and minds” of the population. Over and above the usual leveling of
football grounds or organizing medical camps, the military civic action programmes are now
intruding into academic seminars and religious ceremonies! The prolonged application of this
Act has not only institutionalized militarism and a climate of impunity but has also alienated
the public and fuelled a cycle of violence, increasing insurgency rather than dampening it.
The resistance against AFSPA is no longer confined to opposition parties or civil society but
many official bodies including the Union Home Ministry’s Committee to Review the Armed
Forces Special Powers Act (2005), the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2007)
and the Working Group on Confidence-Building Measures in Jammu and Kashmir (2007)
have all recommended its repeal.
AFSPA has come up prominently during the second review India’s human rights record in the
Working Group on Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council in May
2012 and several recommendations were made:
1. Repeal AFSPA or adopt the negotiated amendments to it that would address the
accountability of security personnel, the regulation concerning detentions as well as
victim’s right to appeal in accordance to international standards (Slovakia);
2. Review AFSPA to align it with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights and other international standard (Switzerland); and
3. Carry out an annual review of the AFSPA aiming to gradually reduce its geographical
scope (France).

4. Guarantee effective access to justice in cases of human rights violations committed
by security forces personnel with regard to the use of torture (Spain).
5. Implement effective judiciary proceedings making possible the bringing to justice
security forces personnel who have committed human rights violations (France)
This is not the first time that the issue of AFSPA is raised in the UN forum, it came up during
the first UPR review in 2008 and earlier almost all the major human rights treaty bodies of the
UN have exposed how AFSPA violates a series of universal human rights standards and
have recommended its repeal.
Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, in her report
presented to the UN Human Rights Council (March 2012) following her official visit to India in
January 2011, highlighted the plight of Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike since
2000 demanding the repeal of AFSPA and recommended that “The National Security Act,
the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Unlawful Activities Act, the Jammu and Kashmir
Public Safety Act and the Chhattisgarh Public Safety Act should be repealed”.
Prof. Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary
Executions who also made an official visit to India in March 2012, also describes AFSPA
“more intrusive than it would be the case under a state of emergency, since the right to life is
in effect suspended, and this is done without the safeguards applicable to states of
emergency”. The then Union Home Minster Mr. P. Chidambaram, promptly stated in the
media that his Union Home Ministry has already recommended amendments to AFSPA, but
a final decision on the matter is pending with the Cabinet Sub Committee on Security. The
Defence Ministry, it has been reported, is blocking the proposed amendment. In this context
it is interesting to note that the Government of India’s interlocutors’ report on Jammu and
Kashmir, made public in May 2012, has also recommended the review AFSPA and went on
to urge the Defence Ministry to consider how to respond “positively” to the issue.
WGHR strongly urges the government of India to utilize this opportunity of the UPR process
at the UN Human Rights Council to repeal AFSPA as recommended by numerous countries.
Such an act from the Government would be consistent with India being a democratic nation
that claims to comply with its constitutional mandate and international human rights
commitments. ■
____________
For more information, please contact Mr. Babloo Loitongbam (+91 9862008838) or Ms
Vrinda Grover (+91 9810806181)

The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN – a national coalition of fourteen human
rights organisations and independent experts – works towards the realisation of all civil, cultural,
economic, political and social human rights in India and towards holding the Indian government
accountable to its national and international human rights obligations. For information on WGHR,
please visit: http://www.wghr.org

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