A Solution to Bangladesh sweatshops?
I urge every CEO and their buyers at every top brand to please stop issuing statement saying they are concerned,. Instead start effecting change. I have an idea for you all.
Get out there. Visit Bangladesh. As a group, go and sort Bangladesh's problems once and for all. And visit the victims. It is the least you can do perhaps?
I cannot stop reading and watching video feeds of the incredibly heart rendering tragedy of the latest garments factory in Dhaka where many hundreds of lives have been lost. It seems the solution lies in arresting the factory owner. No, it does not. Nearly six months ago, another factory was in crisis again. That time it was fire. Workers burnt to death at the Tazreen Fashion Factory in the Ashulia District of Dhaka.
I believe another crisis will happen again.
I was so muted at first that all I could write on my LinkedIn Status earlier this week, was:
"Another sad disaster about another 'unsafe' garment factory in Bangladesh. Another concerned statement from another top brand."
I also wonder how many kids died. I can tell you now, I truly believe child labour is at work here. I do not have the proof except that which I see with my own eyes when I visit Bangladesh. I know the NGOs and Government are trying hard but again it is a long hard process. I have seen children freely working in Dhaka when I visited. Including handicraft co-operatives where I was told leading brands brought fair trade items. I am told their income helps feed starving families. What can I say? Who am I to judge or stop even though I ache for another way.
I don't want to stop Bangladeshi garments factories as there are an essential livelihood for many impoverished women seeking to flee oppressive families or poverty hell hole. It is important to protect the livelihood of poor nations. Heck they need all the income they can get; Bangladesh's garment industry is the second largest outside of China. No mean feat and to see all this crumble, would be a sad loss to the country's economy given other cheaper income streams such as Tourism, which should be supported but are not, have yet to be as lucrative.
Most of all. I am guilty. In a non direct way. I bought Primark clothes a few weeks back before I headed out to Bangladesh. The irony of taking items in my luggage made in Bangladesh, then sent to the UK, bought by me and put into my luggage to wear in Bangladesh. So now I am taking positive action to do my bit. Until these labels show a concerted effort to really check premises and ensure well being of workers, I cannot buy or wear their labels.
But I love Mango. And Primark. Matalan and H&M. Heck so why don't we consumers ask to be given clothes to wear that are conscious free? Surely they, the companies will listen? After all we can vote with our feet or urge change via social media. Perhaps they are paralysed with fear and do not know how to tackle garment factory issues?
I appreciate it is hard. Where to start? Some possible solutions I have researched for CEOs and buyers to read. So that should make it easy, eh?
1. Support the petition by War on Want asking for workers to be compensated.
2. Labour behind The Labels is asking top brands to sign the 'Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement'. Please sign it?
3. Read an FT article written here by Ifti Islam of Asian Tiger Capital Partners. This is an excellent discussion to some of the solutions that will prevent such disasters happening again.
4. Can you, top brands please stop issuing 'concerned' statements. Do something. Top brands, health and safety and fire officials should assist the Bangladeshi government to to install an independent watchdog that will validate am operational certificate. This is given after a building inspection, conversations with an independent workers union and regular monitoring.
5. Get under the skin of Bangladeshi bureaucracy and management. You will know that the facotry owners are under pressure to deliver orders. This is cashflow. However that pressure comes from knowing that you supply the top brand in the world. What if the top brand also insisted that they cannot accept or pay for any orders unless and until random safety checks and polling of workers has been undertaken and audited by an independent watchdog?
6. Can all the top labels not start a fund where they donate 1% of their net profits to the setting up of a Bangladeshi heath and safety and fire regulations department?
7. In the absence of unions (as I believe that corruption begins with team lead groups where literate hold sway over an unskilled workforce), can every factory have an agony aunt or uncle. Who must be protected so that /she can deal with any dirty secrets or anonymous complaint and worker concerns. Also to go under cover and learn all the scams, bribery and corruption that is underhand at a factory? How can you get this information? Simple. Just ask any disgruntled factory supervisor who will spill all the dirty secrets.
8. Be more transparent. When top brands state they undertake rigorous tests and checks, what does this mean. When, Who? What? Where? It always sounds soo vague and yawnsome. If you can answer these, then perhaps your testing is rigorous. But I never see or read the detail. I have yet to see any top brand explain at length how they check their suppliers. These are always met with a "we do all we can' to "we take health and safetym very seriously'.
My bet is, checking is left to some Bangladeshi local man who vehemently shouts yes across emails and calls to say all is in order. How there is 'nothing to worry about' and then slams phone down and screams at the workers that London/NYC client has been in touch and to work harder. "Harder I said!"
9, Why don't top brass send their execs out to Bangladesh to ask for change IN person. The only one who has done so has been the Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M seen here. He met the Prime Minister in September 2012 to ask the local minimum wage be reviewed. Ok, the deeply suspicious amongst us might ask: was it a proactive PR stunt? As when I contacted H&M got muted response.
|CEO of H&M Karl-Johan Persson meeting Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sept 2012|
At least he is trying eh? Most people, let alone CEOS, would not dream of going to 'poor' Bangladesh. Even though they will be put up at 5 star resorts and travel in super duper bullet proof cars and with security to look after them.
All other CEOs - please take note?
10. THE CHALLENGE - VISIT BANGLADESH. Maybe other brands take heed and this time, with Mr Persson in tow, a bunch of you can fly out to Bangladesh, with execs from War on Want, Labour Behind The Labels and experts drawn from the top health and safety, fire regulations and HR sectors who worked on the Olympics.
Agenda would be:
To agree an independent funded watchdog led by a taskforce. Simple.
Dream team I think ought to visit Bangladesh as a group:
Led by Mr Good Guy Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M
Darren Blackhurst, CEO of Matalan
Isak Andic, CEO of Mango
Paul Marchant, CEO of Primark
Mike Duke, President and CEO of Walmart
Murray Worthy, from War On Want
Sam Maher of Labour Behind The Label
Gary Reason, QFSM, Director of Operational Resilience and Training at London Fire Brigade.
10 survivors drawn from the Rana Plaza crash and the Tazreen Fashion Factory.
Representatives from Bangladesh Government, Export Department and Building Regulations.
All we need is some big philanthropic donor to fund this. Mr Gates/Buffet/Branson, you up for it? Any billionaire out there listening? Anyone....?
So you know that I am also ready to help, and take action, I am more than happy, as the founder of Lovedesh a travel start up, to help arrange this taskforce's travel logistics. You up for it?
If you are ready to take this on, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.