Protest outside NY Levi’s store demands safety for RMG workers in Bangladesh and Pakistan

Workers and activists campaigned to push Levi’s, one of the world’s biggest clothing brands, to sign an international agreement for worker health and safety in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

A recent protest outside Levi’s store in Times Square in New York, US, urged the company to sign the agreement prioritizing the safety of garment workers in both countries, the British daily reports. The Guardian.

On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, which housed five garment factories, collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring around 2,500.

It was the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry.

Following the incident, fashion brands signed an international agreement legally obliging them to pay for safety inspections at garment factories in Bangladesh – the world’s second-largest garment exporter, behind China.

However, since 2013 many major clothing brands have resisted signing the agreement and subsequent extensions.

An expanded international agreement has been drawn up to include more worker safety and health provisions beyond fire, electrical and structural inspections and factory repairs last year.

It covers garment factories in Bangladesh as well as Pakistan.

Worker health and safety provisions cover complaints about excessive overtime, lack of maternity leave, regular breaks, access to drinking water and toilets, and workplace accidents such as heat exhaustion and injury.

It also provides a worker complaints mechanism where employees can confidentially report violations and engage signatories to support the complaints process.

According to The Guardian report published online Friday, September 23, more than 170 fashion brands have signed the agreement, including Adidas, American Eagle, Fruit of the Loom, H&M, Zara, Hugo Boss, Puma, Primark and PVH which owns the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands.

Remake, a non-profit organization based in the United States, in partnership with the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, which represents 70,000 women garment workers in Bangladesh, the Labor Education Foundation in Pakistan, the American affiliate of the Service Employees International Union Workers United and the Netherlands Clean Clothes Campaign, which includes 235 worker organizations, formed a partnership to pressure Levi’s to sign the deal.

Ayesha Barenblat, founder and CEO of Remake, told the Guardian: “The new expanded international agreement goes beyond building safety, so it really is a lifeline and a way for workers to share their welfare or work concerns.”

She said the workers chose Levi’s because of its large presence in Pakistan and Bangladesh, which has more than 20 factories.

“We abjectly reject the alleged effectiveness of Levi’s own safety program. The reason is that the garment workers themselves have said so – via Covid-19 [and] in the context of the economic downturn – their lives and well-being have simply been threatened and they have no direct connection to the brands,” Barenblat said.

She added: “The agreement gives workers an equal seat at the table. Private audit programs don’t do that, and they just haven’t been effective for the past 30 years.

As part of the campaign, activists delivered letters, sent hundreds of emails to the Levi’s board and staged actions at Levi’s stores earlier this month in Dhaka, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, London, Delhi, Bangalore and several others. cities.

Meanwhile, Levi’s has denied and disputed all of the campaign’s complaints and allegations of worker safety and health issues, citing several internal programs and efforts.

A Levi’s spokesperson called the campaign a social media engagement ploy.

A Levi’s spokesperson said in an email: “We agree with the intent and spirit of the international agreement and applaud the progress it has made. But that’s not the only way to support workers in Bangladesh or elsewhere.

“We believe that our programs, with their checks and balances, help us go further and give us greater agility to implement new learnings and expand our systems in other countries (which we are actively doing). “

“Recognizing that there is always room for improvement, we continue to grow and expand our programs, and when we hear of facilities not where they should be or workers reporting grievances, we investigate these cases, require our suppliers to address any issues that are found, and monitor their progress closely to ensure compliance,” they added.

James T. Quintero