Bangladesh Factory Owners Aren't Held Accountable Because They Control The Law, Activists Say

In the face of U.S. trade sanctions, courts in Bangladesh are struggling to deal with factory-safety issues, The New York Times reported on Saturday (June 29).

Part of the problem: There's virtually no legal precedent for holding factory owners accountable for unsafe conditions. According to activists trying to get owners of unsafe factories charged with a crime, there's a long history of fires and accidents at garment factories in Bangladesh, and most result in no legal consequences. Between 1990 and 2012, more than 1,000 workers died in hundreds of factory fires or accidents, and not a single factory owner was charged with a crime.

In addition, many garment factory owners have substantial political clout, including some who are members of the Bangladeshi parliament. Factory owners also finance political campaigns during national elections, according to The Times. The result is that the laws that would have to be changed to hold factory owners accountable are largely in the hands of the factory owners themselves.

That, combined with the fact that garment factories produce 80 percent of the country's manufactured exports, may render U.S. sanctions almost completely symbolic. Those sanctions exclude apparel exports themselves.

Increasingly it appears that the original idea behind the internationally backed "Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh" might be the most effective one: getting retailers and apparel brands to fund factory repairs and inspections themselves.

That may sound at best like doing what factory owners should be doing on their own, and at worst like a series of targeted bribes. But short of chains and brands building their own factories in Bangladesh—with all the messy international legal complications that would entail—that may get the job done the fastest.

For more:

- See this New York Times story

Related stories:

As The White House Cracks Down On Bangladesh, Walmart Accord Nears
Walmart Banning Factories Unfairly, Bangladesh Suppliers Say
Big U.S. Chains Reject Bangladesh Accord, Say They'll Do It Themselves