No compensation for Rana Plaza and Fashion Tazreen survivors
by Nozrul Islam
Only nine out of 28 international brands attend Geneva meeting aimed at creating a compensation fund for victims of the collapse of two garment factories. A local source told AsiaNews that "the situation is much more complex" because of unreliable unions and local mafias. "Signs of change" among Bangladeshi businessmen are visible, which "the authorities must help."

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Top international brands have failed to reach an agreement on compensating the victims of the Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashion incidents when plant buildings collapsed, killing thousands of people in Bangladesh.

Only nine of 28 companies took part in the 11-12 September meeting in Geneva organised by the IndustriALL Global Union (a worldwide federation of trade unions) and chaired by the International Labour Organization.

Local sources, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews that "the situation is much more complex than it seems. On the one hand, we have signs of change; on the other, local mafias take advantage of the situation at the expense of workers and those who want to do things by the book."

The plan includes compensation funds worth US$ 74 million for the Rana Plaza workers and US$ 6.4 million for the Tazreen factory workers.

However, Walmart, the giant US retailer ranked third in the world, and Benetton, the Italian-based global fashion brand, were not in Geneva because of a "lack of clarity" around the talks.

Only the British-Irish low-cost clothing retailer Primark agreed to the fund.

"Under the terms of the agreement," the source told AsiaNews, "local unions would manage the fund. However, the problem in Bangladesh is that unions are highly politicised and less concerned about the workers. A small foreign businessman involved in one of the two incidents had little confidence in this and so chose to make a large donation to an association involved in victim rehabilitation. At an international level, only the most general aspects are visible and this also creates problems."

Still, there has been some movement in the wake of the two incidents, the source acknowledged. "A certain sensitivity has emerged among Bangladeshi businessmen. One positive example is Walton, a big local company that had started out importing and selling fridges, and later turned to manufacturing appliances and motorcycles. Recently, it added a cafeteria to its plant to make sure that its workers eat properly and healthy food, and therefore work better."

These "small steps" bode well, the source said, but "the authorities must support them. Unfortunately, we still see many abuses." In one case, "an employer increased wages for its workers, but cut elsewhere." In another, "young women workers had a ten-day break for Id-al-Fitr (which marks the end of Ramadan), but have had to work without a day off for a month because they were well 'rested'."