US giants turn backs on factory fire victims

One year after the Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh, many retailers that sold garments produced there or in the Rana Plaza building that collapsed in April are refusing to join an effort to compensate families of the more than 1200 workers who died in those disasters.

One year after the Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh, many retailers that sold garments produced there or in the Rana Plaza building that collapsed in April are refusing to join an effort to compensate families of the more than 1200 workers who died in those disasters.

The International Labor Organisation is working with Bangladeshi officials, labour groups and retailers to create ambitious compensation funds to help families of the dead and the more than 1800 workers injured, some of whom are still in hospital.

A handful of retailers, led by Anglo-Irish company Primark and C&A, a Dutch-German company, are deeply involved in getting long-term compensation funds off the ground, one for Rana Plaza victims and one for victims of the Tazreen fire, which killed 112 workers.

But, to the dismay of those pushing for the compensation, neither Walmart, Sears, Children's Place nor any of the other US sellers of goods produced at Tazreen or Rana Plaza has agreed to contribute to the efforts.

Supporters of compensation plans say they are needed to pay for medical care for those who are paralysed or otherwise badly injured, to provide income after a vital breadwinner died and to give families enough income that children are not forced to quit school and go to work.

"Compensation is so important, because so many families are suffering. Many families don't have anyone left to support them," said Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity.

"There's been a good response from some European brands, but so far none of the US retailers have agreed to pay a single penny for compensation."

Primark, Benetton, Loblaw and El Corte Ingles are working with the ILO to set up what would be one of the largest industrial compensation funds in history. Advocates are urging about 20 European and US retailers to commit money for compensation.

Even as labour advocates single out Primark for praise, they single out Walmart for criticism, partly because production documents recovered after the Tazreen fire indicate that, two months before that fire erupted, 55 per cent of the factory's production was for Walmart contractors.

Walmart has repeatedly been asked to contribute to the anticipated $6 million compensation program for Tazreen survivors and families.

Walmart said unauthorised contractors were producing the garments without its knowledge.

New York Times

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