EU Policies and Approaches
Leuven Global Governance series
Edited by Jan Wouters, Axel Marx, Dylan Geraets and Bregt Natens
Chapter 9: One step forward: the European Union Generalised System of Preferences and labour rights in the garment industry in Bangladesh
On 24 April 2013, Rana Plaza – an eight-storey building housing several garment factories on the outskirts of Dhaka in Bangladesh – collapsed, taking with it the lives of 1,129 people working inside. The day before, the building had been evacuated after workers spotted building damage on the second floor, but workers were reassured that it was safe to enter the next day. The disaster led to intensified international scrutiny of labour conditions in Bangladesh, as it highlighted the occupational hazards for garment workers there. The Rana Plaza tragedy came close on the heels of a November 2012 fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory near Dhaka in which 112 perished, while a subsequent factory fire in October 2013 at the Aswad Knit Composite Mills complex near Dhaka claimed a further seven lives. In total, over 1,800 Bangladeshi garment workers have perished as a result of unsafe working conditions since 2005. The tragedy at Rana Plaza – the world’s worst industrial accident in 30 years – highlighted the connection between international trade and labour rights: the garment factories at Rana Plaza had supplied many prominent international brands such as Walmart, Mango, Benetton, Joe Fresh, and El Corte Ingles. This connection was lost on no one, as these and other international companies came under intense public pressure in the aftermath of the tragedy to ensure better working conditions for the labourers who make their clothes.
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