The European Union, the United States, and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) have all responded with outrage at the poor working conditions, shoddy construction standards, and general incompetence of Bangladeshi authorities which led to the factory collapse that killed over 400 garment manufacturing workers last month. Until now, Bangladesh has enjoyed free access to European markets, including no trade restrictions, no duties, and no quotas. However, the European Union is now considering trade restrictions to attempt to force Bangladesh to improve working conditions.
The issue came to the forefront of debate when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed. Foreign policy chief for the European Union, Catherine Ashton, cited the sheer scale of the disaster and “criminal” building construction standards as reasons for initiating trade restrictions to Bangladesh. Following suit, U.S. Congressman Sander Levin and U.S. Representative George Miller sent President Obama a letter asking for trade restrictions on Bangladesh in the U.S. as well.
The ETI is a worldwide organization made up of various unions, businesses, and industry representatives, seeking to achieve better working conditions in factories. According to its spokesperson, Peter McAllister, the solution is going to take a joint effort between Bangladesh and the rest of the world. Bangladesh needs to understand the importance of paying decent wages and providing satisfactory working conditions, while the retail world needs to accept the true price of manufacturing clothing in safe and humane conditions.
Bangladesh exports $19 billion per year in garments, 60 percent of which goes to the European Union marketplace. The U.S. is the second largest export buyer. Rana Plaza factory complex consisted of a four-story building with different garment factories operating on each floor.
Several high-end fashion retailers with suppliers in the building have stepped up to aid the injured factory workers and the families of the deceased. Meanwhile, Bangladesh authorities have arrested the engineer who made accusations about the unsafe conditions at the factory the day before the building collapsed.