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Report Critical of Bangladesh Victim Compensation

Labor groups claim payments have either not been made or not agreed upon.

WASHINGTON — It has been six months since the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh, claiming the lives of 1,132 people, and nearly a year since the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. fire killed 112 garment workers, and victims’ families and injured survivors are still fighting for adequate compensation, according to a report released Wednesday.

In the report, “Still Waiting: Six Months After History’s Deadliest Apparel Industry Disaster, Workers Continue to Fight for Compensation,” published by the Clean Clothes Campaign and International Labor Rights Forum, the organizations highlight the plight of hundreds of injured survivors and families of the deceased in the aftermath of the twin tragedies.

“Six months after the Rana Plaza building collapse and 11 months after the Tazreen Fashions fire, the injured workers and the families who lost loved ones face immense financial hardship,” the report begins. “In addition to the physical pain and psychological trauma, they are suffering from loss of income while continuing to await full and fair compensation from the government and factory owners, and European and North American brands and retailers.”

While the report details positive steps taken by some companies, the Bangladeshi government and industry groups to compensate victims, it aims to drive home the point that “what is missing is the commitment from the majority of brands with links to the Rana Plaza factories [and Tazreen] to pay the money needed.”

The report puts the estimated cost for full compensation for victim’s families and injured survivors at $71 million. That amount would cover payments for pain and suffering and long-term loss of earnings for families of the deceased and for injured workers not able to return to work. The estimated cost for victims of the Tazreen Fashions fire is $5.7 million.

“The main point here is that we are having a very difficult time getting most global apparel brands to agree to contribute to the compensation fund for workers,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the ILRF and a coauthor of the report. “You have a situation in Bangladesh where wages are extremely low, infrastructure is extremely poor and there is a mass level of underinvestment in workers. When an accident happens, no one is around to assist in the survival of workers and the families of the deceased.”

Labor and human rights groups and unions have been pressing retailers and apparel brands for months to compensate victims’ families and injured survivors of Rana Plaza and Tazreen, but the two sides failed to reach an agreement on the size of the compensation fund for the victims during talks facilitated by the International Labor Organization last month in Geneva. Since then, a Rana Plaza compensation coordination committee — comprised of Primark, which has already compensated victims on its own; Loblaw Cos. Ltd.; El Corte Inglés; Benetton; the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association; IndustriALL Global Union and CCC — has been formed. The ILO is the independent chair of the committee.

The committee held meetings early this month and discussed a process for establishing a mechanism for delivering compensation to Rana Plaza victims. It aims to craft an international fund to deliver compensation and is slated to meet again on Tuesday. Despite progress cited, the report estimates that 23 brands and retailers allegedly linked to Rana Plaza have failed to sign up to contribute to the compensation fund being crafted, while an estimated 12 brands and retailers allegedly linked to Tazreen have failed to join ongoing compensation talks.

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Among the recommendations on safety and compensation in the report was a call for all brands sourcing from Bangladesh to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which is led by IndustriALL and UNI Global Union and now has 100 member companies. The report criticized a separate North American industry effort known as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which now has 23 member companies, claiming it does not give workers “an independent voice and an equal place at the bargaining table” and remains voluntary and confidential.

It also recommends that the Bangladeshi government continue to play an active role in the compensation committee, develop and implement the mechanism being negotiated, ensure a commitment on medical treatment for injured survivors is upheld and pay its share of compensation into the two funds. The report calls on BGMEA and factory owners to pay into the compensation fund and all parties to engage more with trade unions and train workers on safety.