GENEVA (15 May 2015) – The United Nations Working Group on business and human rights today said that “the lessons of the Rana Plaza disaster have still not been learned.” The experts’ warning comes after a new tragedy in the global garment industry involving the death of more than 70 factory workers in a fire in a shoe factory in Manila this week.
“The tragic death of factory workers, mainly women, is a stark reminder of the urgent need for action to protect workers in the garment industry, in spite of the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety, created two years ago, on the same date as the Manila shoe factory fire,” said Michael Addo, who currently heads the expert group.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building with more than 3,000 garment workers inside in 2013 was a wake-up call for action by governments, trade unions and industry to address systemic human rights issues in the garment sector. “This week’s factory fire in Manila must strengthen our resolve to call for action to prevent such accidents from taking place,” Mr. Addo noted.
The Bangladesh Accord is a legally binding agreement which has been signed by over 150 corporations from 20 countries, global and local trade unions, NGOs and workers’ rights groups.
The Rana Plaza disaster also led to progress, supported by the International Labour Organization, on labour law reform, labour inspection, workplace safety and compensation for injuries to take steps to strengthen inspections of working conditions in factories. Government efforts have been undertaken in collaboration with the Accord and with another initiative, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, led by 26 mainly North American companies.
“The Working Group commends such collaborative actions to find practical solutions to the address health and safety risks. Yet, it recalls that there are many cases of human rights abuses by business enterprises in which victims are unable to access justice and where impunity prevails,” the expert said.
“Accidents are still happening, financing of action plans aimed at improving fire and building safety remains contentious, trade unions continue to face obstacles in registering and operating in many countries, and victims of Rana Plaza and other workplace accidents face long delays in receiving compensation.” Mr. Addo underlined.
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights*, States have the primary duty to protect human rights against abuses by business actors. Fulfilling this duty requires the State to enact, and enforce in practice, legislation and regulations to ensure that businesses respect human rights.
Companies also have a responsibility to respect human rights, which means taking necessary actions to prevent and address any human rights harm with which they may be involved. This includes risks to the rights of workers in their own operations and along global supply chains.
“We urge States and the business community to be more pro-active to ensure safe working conditions for workers in the garment and textile industry, to avoid a continuous repetition of these preventable tragedies,” he stressed.
“The Working Group calls all States and businesses to take all necessary measures at the national, regional and international level to prevent future business-related harm, protect rights on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and provide for effective remedy for victims,” Mr. Addo said.
The group of human rights experts also expressed their profound sadness and condolences to the families of the factory workers who lost their lives in the Manila shoe factory this week.
(*) The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/Tools.aspx
The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. Its five members are: Mr. Michael Addo (current Chairperson-Rapporteur), Ms. Margaret Jungk (Vice Chair), Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga, Mr. Dante Pesce and Mr. Puvan Selvanathan. It reports to the Human Rights Council and to the UN General Assembly. For more information visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Business/Pages/WGHRandtransnationalcorporationsandotherbusiness.aspx
The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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