There has been international outcry since the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in April, which claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people. Campaigning across the UK has fought to improve the rights of vulnerable garment workers. And it is working!
The Anglican Alliance, an international organisation working in development, relief and advocacy, are part of a global coalition of churches who are urging consumers in the UK to put pressure on their retailers and see conditions for workers in Bangladesh changed. Over 90 companies, including New Look, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer have signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety. A further 20 companies, mostly based in America, have signed a similar agreement. This is excellent progress.
And yet together these cover just 2,100 of the 5,000 garment factoris in Bangladesh, and still many workers are left unprotected due to loopholes in the signed agreements. A recent fire at a textile factory near Dhaka in Bangladesh, which killed more than ten people, highlights the continued need for this campaign. The Deputy Managerat the Aswad Composite Mills factory, Molla Boadnuzzamah, said that British high street brands Next, Primark, George, Gap, H&M and Morrisons had been using the factory that caught alight after a machine overheated. This particular factory escaped inspection as the signed accords refer only to registered garment factories who have contracts with clothing brands, and not to the textile companies to whom the work is often outsourced.
Poor conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers are well-documented: long hours, a lack of sanitation and poorly constructed factories make working in the industry a risky business. Despite a booming clothing market, extremely low wages mean that the people making our clothes struggle to survive. The textile industry accounts for 45 per cent of all industrial employment in Bangladesh but makes up just five per cent of the total national income. In real terms, the average garment worker earns just nine pence per hour – only 14 per cent of a realistic living wage.
As consumers, Christians in Britain are implicated in this injustice, and yet sometimes feel unable to offer any tangible help. But the Church can respond. Anglican Bishop Paul S Sarker, moderator of the Church of Bangladesh, offers this advice to the Church in the UK:
“Importers and buyers should not stop their garments business in Bangladesh. At present the garment manufacturing sector is the second largest foreign exchange earner in Bangladesh. A large section of the poor people in our population is surviving on this sector.”
As an alternative to boycotts, Bishop Paul suggests heightening advocacy for Bangladesh at home in the UK. Following his work providing practical support to those injured and bereaved in the collapse, the Anglican Alliance, together with the Church of Bangladesh Group, has produced a resource pack to equip Christians to do just this.
The pack calls on Christians to “be a voice for the voiceless” and put pressure on retailers to stop this injustice. The resource is already being used by churches and student societies in the UK, Australia, Canada and the US, and includes a template letter which can be sent to your retailer to ask them to make a change. Real life stories from the garment workers are also included, as well as statistics highlighting the desperate need for justice.
To find out more about the campaign, visit our website at http://anglicanalliance.org/pages/8376
 The global coalition of churches in the Church of Bangladesh Group includes:
Anglican Alliance, Church of Bangladesh, Church Mission Society, Church of Scotland, Council for World Mission, Diocese of Llandaff (Church in Wales), Methodist Church in Britain, Oxford Mission, Us (United Society)