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Unit VII Scholarly Activity
Write a one-page analysis of the article in your unit reading assignment by Nick Cook titled, “Rana Plaza Revisited: Following the Deaths of Over a Thousand Bangladeshi Garment Workers When a Factory Building Collapsed in 2013, Western Retailers Were Forced to Take Action to Improve Health and Safety.”
Be sure to include your thoughts on what happened and how you might have handled things differently from an HR perspective. Cite all sources (which at a minimum should be this article) and references in APA format, and include a title page, body to analyze the article, and conclusion section.
Cook, N. (2018). Rana Plaza revisited: Following the deaths of over a thousand Bangladeshi garment workers when a factory building collapsed in 2013, western retailers were forced to take action to improve health and safety. RoSPA Occupational Safety & Health Journal, 48(1), 17–21. Retrieved from https://libraryresources.columbiasouthern.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=127820926&site=ehost-live&scope=site
By Nick Cook: “Rana Plaza Revisited: Following the Deaths of Over a Thousand Bangladeshi Garment Workers When a Factory Building Collapsed in 2013, Western Retailers Were Forced to Take Action to Improve Health and Safety.”
|Following the deaths of over a thousand Bangladeshi garment workers when a factory building collapsed in 2013, western retailers were forced to take action to improve health and safety. Nick Cook discusses what progress had been made.
In April 2013, the Rana Plaza
But the soil nurturing the seeds of this disaster was the economic and political system in which the garment industry grew. The ready-made garment (RMG) industry accounts for 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s export earnings and depends on a ready supply of the cheapest labour in the world often crammed into factories which can be all too often unstable and full of fire hazards.
Overwhelmingly, these factories are owned
not by the brand names and retailers in western countries but by local factory owners, whose influence with the government mitigates against effective health and safety enforcement. And the fact that the industry’s workforce, approximately 3.5 million workers, is largely female and not well-educated makes it easier to dominate. On-the morning of collapse in 2013, the building was showing signs that it was unsafe but workers were bullied into entering it. There were no unions to stand up to them.
Pressures on local factory owners in Bangladesh add to the problems. Not only do they struggle to compete with each other but also with RMG factories in other countries such as China. To succeed they must meet the tight prices and even tighter deadlines demanded by western brands and retailers. The firms working on the unsafe floors of Rana Plaza supplied well-known brands and retailers in Europe and the USA. These included Primark (UK), Matalan (UK), Bon Marche (UK) Mango (Spain) Joe Fish
“Major life-threatening safety concerns remain outstanding in too many factories.”
(Canada) and Benetton (Italy).
Given the economic importance of the ready-made garment industry to the Bangladesh economy, it is not surprising that government officials turn a blind eye as manufacturers cut corners to meet these demands. But tragically, many of those cut corners are health and safety corners.
Nor are poorly made buildings the only problem. Fires are frequent and deadly. Just five months before the Rana Plaza disaster, a factory fire killed at least 111 people. In 2013, the same year as Rana Plaza, it is estimated that (largely unreported) fires
The RoSPA OS&H Journal January 2018 17
© Ibrahim Ibrahim/Demotix/PA
“…the Accord has been signed by over 200 apparel brands, retailers and importers…”
more than 800 people.
The economic and political reality of the RMG industry in Bangladesh led to the Rana Plaza disaster. But is there a positive note? Did the disaster trigger measures that have led to fairer and safer employment for thousands of workers? After all, the last thing major brand names and retailers want is the health and safety killing fields of the Bangladesh RMG industry threatening their collective image.
This threat to their collective image led to a collective response to the disaster, or to put it more accurately, two collective responses. One of these was by brands and retailers based mainly in Europe and was popularly known as the “Accord”. Or, to give its full title The Accord on Factory and Building Safety – a legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions designed to work towards a safe and healthy Bangladeshi ready-made garment industry. The Accord also gave workers a voice in the form of equal garment representation with brands and retailers on its Steering Committee, which is chaired by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Originally, 40 brands and retailers signed the
Accord. By the end of the first year this had grown to 180. As of December 2017, the Accord has been signed by over 200 apparel brands, retailers and importers from over 20 countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia; two global trade unions; and eight Bangladesh trade unions.
To improve working conditions and buildings each signatory brand name and retailer joining the Accord contributes funding according to its volume of trade with the Bangladesh RMG industry. Individual contributions are capped at half a million dollars per year (averaged over five years). Any extra money the Steering Committee can wheedle from government sources supplements this income, as does international aid distributed via the ILO.
Not all brands and retailers were keen to join the Accord, especially those based in the US. For American retail giant Walmart, one of the sticking points was the Accord’s most positive features – its extensive involvement of trade union. Walmart harbours a deep distrust of trade unions. Another sticking point was the law. The Accord is a legally binding contract between signatories. Any Accord signatory shirking its obligations can face a binding and legally enforceable arbitral award. Many US companies were not so keen on this degree of legal obligation, so instead of joining the Accord these companies started their own initiative. This was the “Alliance”, more formally known as The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Not surprisingly, Walmart was a founder member. Equally unsurprisingly, labour representatives such as trade unions have no role in governing, organising, running or developing the policy the Alliance. Nor are legal obligations for anywhere near as stringent. Alliance brand names and retailers may opt-out at any time. The only penalty they may face is having to honour their five-year financial promises in full. Money provided by the Alliance is provided in the form of loans.
The Alliance and Accord also differ in their view as to who is responsible for health and safety in Bangladesh factories. Both agree that this responsibility should be shared between western brands and retailers on one side, and the factories and Bangladesh Government on the other. The Accord,
© Rehman Asad/Demotix/PA
Aerial view of the collapsed eight-storey Rana Plaza building
January 2018 The RoSPA OS&H Journal
however, believes that the main responsibility should lie with the former while the Alliance puts more emphasis on the factories and government.
In some ways, however, the Alliance and Accord are similar. For example, they worked together on a common safety standard.
Both organisations carry out fire and building inspections and worker training. And, despite its aversion to worker/union representation within its own organisation, the Alliance, like the Accord, encourages RMG industries within Bangladesh to develop a culture of worker representation on health and safety issues.
The Alliance covers 700 factories and approximately 1.28 million workers, approximately half the number of factories and workers covered by the Accord.
Reviewing progress after its first six months the Alliance listed its first accomplishment as the development of a “common standard to guide all factory inspections”. This it achieved in conjunction with the Accord. Specific progress in dealing with the RMG health and safety shortcomings included training for managers and workers in a third of the factories covered by the Alliance.
The Accord also reported early progress in the year following the Rana Plaza disaster. By June 2014, 110 Accord inspectors had
done 800 inspections. Key findings from these inspections included: safety risks in all areas, excessive loads on some factory floors, the need to strengthen building columns, electrical wiring needed to be properly connected, many areas unprotected by fire doors and smoke detectors, and fire protected exits were lacking.
Although both the Accord and the Alliance appeared to hit the ground running, a unified approach under one initiative would have been so much better. Two different initiatives inevitably led to confusion and a lack of focus.
Four years on
So where are we now? Four years after Rana Plaza and less than a year away from 31 May 2018, the termination date agreed for the initial Alliance and Accord contracts, a statement issued by the Accord claims “significant progress” in achieving its goal of “a working environment in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures”.
Currently, the Accord covers 2.5 million workers in ready-made garment factories, and its inspectors have completed fire and building safety inspections at 1,800 facilities which supply more than 200 signatory brands. Accord engineers have identified over 118,500 fire, electrical and structural hazards at these factories.
Nearly 80 per cent of workplace dangers discovered in the Accord’s original round of inspections have been remediated, and 500 Accord factories have completed 90 percent or more of the necessary fixes.
The Accord Steering Committee warns, however, that “major life-threatening safety concerns remain outstanding in too many factories and need to be fixed urgently”. These include: inadequately protected fire exits, inadequate fire alarm and fire protection systems, and outstanding structural retrofitting work.
The Accord has so far terminated business with over 70 RMG companies. Reasons given for termination are varied but failure to implement workplace safety measures is the most common. Terminations last for at least 18 months, after which the factory can then reapply to be part of the Accord.
In November 2017, the Alliance announced its fourth-year results. It now covers 785 factories and 1.4 million garment workers. Achievements claimed to date by the Alliance include:
85 per cent of all required factory repairs completed (including 80 per cent of high priority repairs)
162 no-compliant suppliers have been suspended from the Alliance factory list
171 factories have democratically elected safety committees
“Nearly 80 per cent of workplace dangers discovered in the Accord’s original round of inspections have been remediated…”
The RoSPA OS&H Journal January 2018 19
“1.3 million workers have access to a confidential worker helpline”
1.3 million workers have access to a confidential worker helpline
1.4 million workers trained in basic fire safety
The four-year reports from both the Accord and the Alliance are very positive, although to be fair there is an admission that far more still needs to be done. Other stakeholder organisations, particularly those representing the interests of workers, are not always so upbeat. Human Rights Watch points to a lack of transparency. Along with other organisations representing workers’ interests it is urging brands and retailers to publicly disclose all sites that manufacture their products. Knowing which factories manufacture which brand products they buy allows not only the supply chain but consumers to exercise choice, for example, by avoiding those products produced by a manufacturer with bad health and safety practices. (Rana Plaza starkly highlighted a lack of transparency in the supply chain. Investigators had to scramble through the rubble for brand labels on clothes in order to identify which brand names sourced their
products from Rana Plaza so that injured workers could claim compensation.)
So where does Bangladesh ready-made garment industry health and safety go from here?
The Alliance had always planned to allow its contract to expire (one suspects with a sigh of relief) at the end of May 2018. Health and safety in the factories it covers will be handed over to local stakeholders, e.g. factory owners, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The Accord, on the other hand, realise there is still much to be done. Companies and global unions have agreed on a second (transition) Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The agreement will enter into effect when the current Accord expires in May 2018.
This news was greeted enthusiastically by
groups representing workers when it was announced in June 2017. They see the new agreement as maintaining progress to date and helping to ensure that factory owners don’t slip back into their old ways. But factory owners are clearly pining for their old ways. They objected to the new agreement and were backed by the Bangladesh Government. However, following a court hearing at the end of last year and further discussions between brand and trade union signatories to the Accord, the BGMEA and the Government of Bangladesh, it was agreed that the Accord will continue to operate past its original deadline – until a set of “rigorous readiness conditions” are met by local regulatory bodies. These conditions include: demonstrated proficiency in inspection capacity, remediation of hazards, quick enforcement of the law against non- compliant factories, full transparency of governance and remediation progress, and investigation and fair resolution of workers’ safety complaints. A joint monitoring committee (comprised of Accord brand signatories, Accord trade union signatories, BGMEA, ILO and government officials) will
20 January 2018 The RoSPA OS&H Journal
©NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images
Main measures included in the Accord agreement
Safety inspections, remediation and fire safety training at facilities.
Appropriately qualified and independent inspectors to do inspections.
Publicly disclosed inspection reports.
Factories responsible for remedial work identified by the inspector.
Workers given right to refuse to enter buildings they reasonably suspect to be unsafe. There will be no redress from their employers.
Training in fire and building safety for workers, managers and security staff.
Factory health and safety committees with 50% of committee being workers and trade unions can be represented.
Legally binding requirement on supplier to undertake remedial action required by national law.
Key new elements of the 2018 (Transition) Accord include:
Safety committee and safety training in all covered factories.
Training and complaints protocol to cover Freedom of Association (FoA) protections in relation to workers protecting their own safety under the scope of the Transition Accord.
Workers’ severance payments in Accord related factory closures and relocations.
Potential, voluntary expansion of scope to related industries.
Transition of Accord functions to a national regulatory body when such body is ready.
Release of brand responsibility for inactive factories after 18 months.
Conditional possibility for signatories who stop sourcing from Bangladesh to terminate agreement.
review the progress towards meeting these handover conditions.
The Accord secretariat and its signatories say “the ultimate solution for Bangladesh is effective public regulation by Bangladeshi authorities” but add “until the goal is achieved, the Accord that will continue, in cooperation with the Bangladeshi authorities, its inspection, remediation, safety committee training programmes, and complaints mechanism to achieve its goal of a safe and sustainable garment industry in Bangladesh.”
All companies sourcing from Bangladesh are being urged to sign the renewed Accord and work towards a “collective goal of safe and sustainable RMG and related industries”.
So far, only around 50 have.
The RoSPA OS&H Journal January 2018 21
©NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images
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