Alliance, 2 global trade unions blast Muhith, BGMEA chief

Staff Correspondent

A platform of North American retailer brands and two global trade unions have strongly criticised finance minister AMA Muhith and BGMEA president Md Atiqul Islam for their recent comments on the activities of the retailers’ bodies in improving safety in the Bangladesh readymade garment sector.
The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the consortium of North American brands and retailers, on Friday urged prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her government to clarify their position over the ongoing efforts to improve safety in the RMG sector as the finance minister criticised the activities of Alliance and other initiatives.
Member companies of Alliance expressed concern over the comment of the finance minister criticising efforts to improve safety in the RMG sector in Bangladesh.
On June 15, at a meeting with the leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Bangladesh Textile Mills Association Muhith described Alliance and Accord, a platform of EU retailers, as a ‘noose for the garment industry’.
Two global trade unions — IndustriAll Global Union and UNI Global Union — strongly condemned the comments of the finance minister and said the minister’s remarks were ‘inaccurate and irresponsible’.
‘I am truly shocked that a member of the prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet would criticise efforts aimed at enhancing safety in the readymade garment sector, which employs more than 4 million women and men and is one of the largest contributors to Bangladesh’s growing economy,’ said Ellen Tauscher, independent chair of Alliance.
In a statement, she hoped that the government of Bangladesh would clarify its position and demonstrate unequivocal support for Alliance and other initiatives working to improve the safety of its people and the sustainability of its economy.
‘Comments like those attributed to the finance minister and other officials in Bangladesh raise serious and significant concerns about the commitment of the government to this unprecedented and private sector-led and funded safety initiative,’ Tauscher said.
The retailers’ group said that in 2013 Alliance and its members committed to invest $50 million over a five year period to upgrade member factories to meet international fire and safety standards and ensure that garment workers are not risking their lives to earn a living.
Alliance has inspected 100 per cent of the factories from which its members source and is working to implement corrective action plans and assist factory owners with remediation efforts, statement said.
When temporary closure of a factory due to remediation is necessary, Alliance pays 50 per cent of each factory worker’s salary for up to four months, with the remaining 50 per cent covered by the factory owner.
IndustriALL and UNI, signatories of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, strongly denounced the comments made by Muhith and Atiq.
They said, ‘Your remarks wrongly accuse Accord of seeking to hold back Bangladesh’s progress, when the reverse is true. As your government is well aware, Accord came into being in response to the collapse of Rana Plaza, when it became evident to the world, and specifically to garment brands, that the safety of garment workers in Bangladesh could not be guaranteed.’
Terming the minister’s remarks ‘inaccurate and irresponsible’, UNI secretary general Philip Jennings  said that Accord was a positive game changer for the Bangladeshi garment industry and minister’s comments put at risk its future sustainability.
‘Let’s not forget that prior to Accord, self-regulation by brands and government inspections failed to prevent Bangladesh’s worst-ever industrial accident,’ said IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina.
The global trade union federations sent two separate letters in this regard to the finance minister and the BGMEA president.
In the letters the trade unions said, ‘The  messages  that  your  government  sends  to  factories  through  their  representative organisations,  and  through  the  media,  are  influential.  Sending a negative message about the operations of Accord that has the effect of delaying or undermining essential factory safety improvements is not in the interests of the government, the industry or the workers.’
Citing media reports the trade unions said that at the meeting on June 15 the BGMEA president described Accord as a ‘big problem’ for Bangladesh’s readymade apparel industry.
‘We are alarmed that you used this occasion to make public accusations towards the actions of Rob Wayss,’ the trade unions said in the letter sent to BGMEA president Md Atiqul Islam.
Targeting him (Rob) personally in this  way  is  not  only  a  risk  to  his  personal  safety,  it  gives  the  impression  that  he  alone  is responsible  for  the  decisions  taken  in  the  course  of  implementing  Accord  when  it  is  the steering committee which is ultimately responsible, they said.
‘Your accusation that Rob is an “agent” of the AFL-CIO is particularly inflammatory and unhelpful,’ they said.
‘We  hope  that  the  meeting  between  the  Accord  Steering  Committee  and  the  BGMEA  that  is scheduled for the next week will be an opportunity for the concerns of all parties to be discussed.’

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