Regulatory Solutions to Improving Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) in the Bangladeshi Garment Sector: Exploring Effects in US and European Supplier Factories
Rana Plaza, an eight-story building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed on 24 April 2013, killing over 1,200 apparel workers. Most of the dead were women and girls working in garment factories perched precariously in the upper floors of the building. The incident, the most fatal in the history of the apparel industry, highlighted poor Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), especially noncompliance with fire and building safety standards, in the Bangladeshi garment sector. Bangladesh, the second largest garment producer in the world behind China, has 4,000 garment factories employing over four million garment workers, 90 percent of whom are women. As a consequence of the scope of the disaster, Rana Plaza brought the country’s apparel industry under intense scrutiny, inspiring national governments, the European Union (EU), the International Labor Organization (ILO) and apparel retailers to establish monitoring initiatives to improve OSH. Two monitoring regimes establishing fire and building safety programs have emerged in the US and the EU: the business-dominated Alliance (US-led) and the multi-stakeholder-oriented Accord (EU-led). A broader monitoring and remediation program, covering Core Labor Standards plus OSH using a tripartite approach, is also being implemented by the ILO. In addition to monitoring and remediation, the US withdrew tariff preferences, administered under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), on a number of Bangladeshi non-garment exports. By contrast, the EU chose a strategy of continued multi-sector engagement. Expansive tariff preferences for all products except arms and other financial support offered by the EU to Bangladesh as a Least Developed Country were left undisturbed. The persistent and even deteriorating working conditions in global supply chains raise four basic questions: (1) Have OSH conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers improved since the Rana Plaza tragedy? (2) If so, have these new monitoring/regulatory regimes played a role in creating positive results? (3) If not, why have the monitoring/regulatory regimes had little effect? and (4) What other approaches might have more impact?