“Public Opinion Has Managed Companies to Act after The Catastrophe of Bangladesh,” Isidor Boix Lluch

by | July 4, 2017

The Frog square catastrophe caused the death of 1,138 people and left more than 2,000 injured. A misfortune that generated an earthquake of social and labour claims that even today remain open, after having advanced prominently in some aspects of security and the conditions of workers. The building of Bangladesh, located in the capital, Dhaka, provoked large companies of the textile international union so that something like this does not happen again. These corporations see how public opinion increasingly pressing more to prevent that continue happening acts of this kind and urge them to change their way of business. They begin to “re-emerge multinational structures where you have before it had”, tells us how in this interview Isidor Boix Lluch, Member of the international secretariat of Comisiones Obreras in industry and IndustriALL Coordinator of Global Union, the global Union Federation for the Global framework agreement with Inditex.

Isidor Boix Lluch

What is the current status of Rana Plaza after two years of catastrophe?

It is a very complex situation, but progress continues slowly. There are two essential issues, with two procedures underway. One of them is the security of the buildings, with fire prevention. And the other is the compensation for victims, which is still pending to solve.

“Nearly 200 world brands have signed and are participating in the agreement on security and fire prevention”

In the two procedures there are distinct from the various bodies involved. In the security and fire prevention mechanism is clear and positive, nearly 200 global brands have signed the agreement and are participating in one way or another. Works, among the improvements: there are inspections in workplaces, steps have been taken to improve the working conditions, safety, not always with the expected requirements committees, have been chosen but ultimately has resulted in a major breakthrough in the structure of the workers.

On the other hand, with the issue of compensation to victims is raised a concern, which in some cases is an excuse by some global brands, in the sense that provide direct funds to compensate victims presupposes a certain commitment or responsibility, which it is partly true, but on the other hand you have a humanitarian character, at the same time that liability objective set of brands that ever bought in the country. They still are around $ 10 million needed to fully cover the budget. At this time around 60% – 70% of the responsibility, it has been covered with scales of the country.

Then is working, there has been progress in the trade union structure of workers in Bangladesh, which is also an essential to do something more than pure philanthropy external reference but something that improves the condition of the people affected. It is still in a process complicated and difficult to predict. In this regard, Bangladesh remains a reference in the world, to the extent that, in practice, there is no global legislation, to the extent that the problems of globalization issues to resolve in a global way and there is no clear instances that allow you to deal with them. A group of companies that have been in accordance with the Trade Union structures and other parts are new, but at the same time still having enormous deficiencies in addressing these problems.

“Multimillionaire businessmen from Bangladesh have direct responsibility for the disaster, and therefore would have to participate in the Fund. There is a tremendous deficiency”

How did each company contribution to the Trust Fund of donors frog Plaza? Why have some contributed more than others?

Some figures have been made public, in other cases the simple act of contribution been made public as you can see on our web site of the International Trade Union Federation of industry. There is a certain dark ages as a result of before commenting. It is also true that there is not only a responsibility of brands, we are insisting on this area because it is where there are possibilities on the other hand, but at the same time it is responsibility of the Government of the country with own employers.

“They still are needed around 10 million dollars to fully cover the budget”

When we talk about Bangladesh we tend to consider that it is a country of a reality with very low means, we almost think of poor people in this world, something which can be valid for the workers in the country, but not so much for the entrepreneurs of Bangladesh. There are millionaires and billionaires who work here and are not always native entrepreneurs; There are quite a few Chinese or Korean, for example. At the same time These people have the responsibility to direct the disaster, because ultimately the factories are of them, those who do business selling brands they, and therefore they would have to participate in this Fund. The truth is that a tremendous deficiency there is.

Bangladesh is a country with a political problem at the tremendous institutional level. There are families that are historically disputed the power. Precisely now, in March, ended a strange formula for a general strike in three months requested by one of the families in the opposition that nearly paralyzed the country. There is a situation that complicates the country’s institutions to assume their responsibility in the matter.

What measures has been taken Bangladesh so far?

Bangladesh has been something, has tried to engage them in various fields. But in many cases when it comes to safety of buildings inspection has had to make almost aside from State structures. There are implications and the very presence of the patron saint of the country apparently works, there is a formal tripartite agreement in 2014 of the Government of the country, employers and trade unions to discuss all these issues. But this works with many difficulties.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building, on April 24, 2013

And when it comes to criminal responsibilities?

There are criminal proceedings opened in the country, although it seems that these things are lost at the end, but There is a particular processing some of the sagging factories responsible for. At this time it has diluted everything absolutely. The most important responsibility that has been derived from these facts is that have assumed throughout the world.

Are economic compensation from the large groups something meaningful or a small gesture that can them them the same thing I buy sneakers?

“Criminal prosecution of some of those responsible for the sunken factories has diluted”

Well, it seems bad example. The dehumanization of the problems, when translated into figures and when human vehicles are those who circulate, are so complex of institutions, companies… Opposite this is difficult to know what would be the appropriate response. It is true that here There is a loss of apparent human sensitivity, result in addition of our world. At the same time, it is also true that it is one of the problems to which should find mechanisms that give another sense and channel fail otherwise responsibilities and initiatives that occur.

In the Trust Fund of donors frog square only have been known companies that have participated and some quantities. Not have an open and concrete information?

An issue that we have raised all the companies is that it should be made public provided figures. This secrecy does not help. Obviously every company has a volume of production and particular billing and mechanisms could be established to adapt these amounts. At any given time we propose very concretely establish coefficients that half of compensation assume the companies and the other half the country, as well as business associations of Bangladesh. Inditex and Primark even did studies and provided data but in the end it was not possible to specify a specific accountability agreement because it raised a complicated legal issue. If there is a quantified and rectified to the best contribution this derives in a quantification of criminal responsibility. Finally, it was not possible to reach a structure as in issues of security and fire prevention, where Yes quite well is being fulfilled. The compensation fund for victims has focused humanitarian way and therefore there is no direct requirement of contribution for the brands and entrepreneurs in the country, which has resulted in very little acceptable imbalances in practice.

“If there is a quantified and rectified to the best contribution this derives in a quantification of criminal responsibility”

There are voices that say that companies compensates them more these situations and pay if you pass something that not to avoid it before. Is this changing?

To the extent that develops the sensitivity of public opinion begins to arise the idea that Prevention of problems is essential, not so much the problems when they occur. What happens is that the mixture of the two mechanisms of intervention is taking place and is occurring with different accents according to the time.

It is possible to say that the concept of corporate social responsibility has advanced, has had a shock for this topic, and this implies, even from the human point of view, the involvement of many more people as a result of Rana Plaza. People who they begin to understand that this is a problem to solve and the importance of organizing the world in another way. Somehow we are advancing, another issue is the slowness of the process and the dissatisfaction that produces to see so many things to do.

In line with this, after the catastrophe called to boycott many of the firms, though in the end they have followed rising benefits. About Rana Plaza has affected them somehow in the public or the image?

The boycott issue is very complex. It punishes way relative to the undertakings concerned, because the boycott means that if you stop to buy a brand you buy another, therefore does not let you buy. Another issue that is here implied is that if this could modify the consumption system. Years ago, probably with a coat and a pair of shoes remained, many more are now needed. So here there is a problem of energy consumption.

“The ability to generate institutions that support the collective interests, which punish non-compliance and to seek alternatives is the essential way, and not the boycott”

From the Union point of view, almost never raised the boycott in these terms because who just hurting is to workers, that we want to help you explode less. And if in this case the boycott could finish their work. Somehow the boycott is not the essential way, this is the ability to generate institutions that support the collective interests, which punish breaches, looking for alternatives… Indeed the institutionalization of these mechanisms of solidarity, complaint and punishment of the crimes that not so much the boycott, which somehow is inhibited at the bottom, and in practice do not help. Its effectiveness is very limited, changing a product by another.

For which this secrecy by many of the companies that took to tell if working in Rana Plaza?

This is another big problem. On the interrelation between large structures of production, marketing and others practically all the major brands are in the country. Now, at that time, point and moment of frog square many no longer. This aspect would be secondary in the background, although formally on occasion is an excuse to meet responsibilities. It has worked on this issue and on a recent visit to Bangladesh to see how was the current situation you realize that to date there are about 20 or 30 brands producing. There is a so deep and permanent relationship that doesn’t say “I was or not”, the mechanism is much more complex.

“At the time of the accident were Mango and El Corte Inglés with small orders, Inditex was earlier but had ceased its relationship with them as a result of the audit performed them”

Inditex is one of the companies said that it was not but in the end that brought money to the Fund for victims.

Yes, from the point of view of Association, the participation of Inditex has seemed of the more positive. Seems that had industrial activity a year before the accident and that it had sought other buyers for many reasons. Inditex has contributed funds whose amounts have not been made public, but as well as others we have denounced the absolute disproportion from the contribution fund, in the case of Inditex has been favourable.

On the other hand, Inditex is part of the Steering Committee of the whole. Enough has been implicated. A case contrary to other brands, in particular the Americans, who have inhibited and have assembled a structure parallel in relation to trade unions.

The local forces rescued people from the frog, 25 April 2013

Is it possible that Inditex has set as an example to be followed by other companies within the field of corporate social responsibility?

“Inditex is the first, and still almost unique, framework agreement business with unions on the subject of social responsibility”

There is an objective fact. During these days I was in Japan for the meeting of the Working Group of IndistriALL Global Union on textile. Again we see that Inditex is the first, and still almost unique, framework agreement business with unions on the subject of social responsibility. There are other companies that have important social policies, such as H & M, C & A or GAP Inc. but have not translated them into a formal agreement as it is the case of Inditex, which gives rights to local unions, it gives information of your production line, it gives evidence to address the issues, which in the case of Bangladesh is making an important issue.

Rather than tell an example, Inditex is one more there in lathe which needs to be done every day. He is not already say they do well and ready, they should be coordinating and improving everything. At this time, Inditex is one of the positive references that exist in our work of Trade Union in assessing issues of corporate social responsibility.

When viewed from the outside find it hard to understand that companies who still earning large sums millionaires prefer to increase their benefit at the expense of so unfair as the frog place conditions there are. How do they affect measures from unions you instáis them to implement? They hurt so much as to not take them?

It is a very logical and very basic reasoning when it translates into world economic relations are a little upsets. The minimum wage is an issue that we are dealing with today. We are looking for that everywhere wage represents a remuneration of work living, living wage. There are now 14 marks, which is not a small thing because, among them also is Inditex, which have drawn up a document with which accept that if they raise wages they are willing to raise the price of goods bought there – as it is the case with Cambodia – knowing, on the other hand, this represents very little for them.

“Governments, through the WTO, have refused to world trade products have a guarantee of a decent production system”

Go to any employer to ask for Philanthropy, but at the same time we need to establish mechanisms involving advances, such as living wage. In practice the world is rebalancing already. When in Bangladesh the minimum wage passed recently 38 dollars to 67 dollars a month it may seem a pittance but at the same time the rise implies a very high percentage, is almost twice. The mixture of all these mechanisms is being translated, despite the correctness of the complaint and precisely because of this that we are moving.

Did the Spanish companies involved in that moment of frog square handle and El Corte Inglés?

At the time of the accident were Mango and El Corte Inglés with small orders, Inditex was earlier but had ceased its relationship with them as a result of the audit performed them. Then there was a secondary problem which then is lost because it has very little significance, and is a Spanish businessman who participated as an intermediary.

How was the reaction of Mango and El Corte Inglés?

Mango and El Corte Inglés were the first companies to sign the agreement on security and are participating in the process. Figures of compensation that have contributed are not public and the knowledge of those who we have points to that it can be improved.

El Corte Ingles has a presence in the MSCI, which is a European structure of social responsibility and is participating in the Coordinating Committee of the solidarity fund. There is a real activity that we consider correct, yet always room for improvement.

These allowances be increased in the future or will remain as they are?

As the subject is not closed, in both cases we have told them that we must improve the contribution. The response has been to consider.

“The change in Benetton decision indicates that it is possible to achieve changes in the attitudes of our companies through public opinion”

Some companies such as Benetton are still without providing a euro to the Fund after having agreed to do so after public pressure.

Benetton has been one of the big global brands present in Bangladesh since long had refused to assume any type of responsibility, in fire prevention or in solidarity with the victims. Recently said that if it assumed this responsibility but There is still evidence that has made some concrete gesture on the subject. It is an example of the reality of the problem: both attempt of no accountability as the effectiveness of the public in disasters like these, although it is slow and diluted. Maybe it’s a case that shows that it is possible to achieve changes in the attitudes of our companies through the public.

The rescue after the collapse of the Rana Plaza, on April 24, 2013

Primark says have already paid $ 11 million of the 14 million offered, has been one of companies in disaster response model?

“Primark has made a contribution to the Fund, which is higher than average, and at the same time a specific contribution workers in factories that worked for them”

Primark is one of the companies that has had a positive attitude. Surely linked to that you are working with a man who was one of the creators of the mechanism of social responsibility within Inditex. By the circumstances of the time, Primark was one of the major brands that had a very important productive activity in Rana Plaza. It has made a contribution to the Fund, which is higher than average, and at the same time a specific contribution workers in factories that worked for them. They have also proposed various interesting ideas to prevent problems similar to this. It is one of the brands with more initiative at this time.

After Rana Plaza has been the signing of accords as Bangladesh agreement on security in the construction of buildings and fire protection systems systems, has been the great step taken? A major catastrophe does lack so that an agreement is reached as well?

Yes. This it is working now. It has been interesting and the structure, security and other measures that favor the safety of workers has been improved. This area is less spectacular, it is day to day and trade union activity, but there is a very interesting process that will help improve the country.

Is it possible that this agreement be extrapolated to other countries as an example of good practice to prevent other disasters?

Without a doubt, implicitly already it has extrapolated. What happens is that Bangladesh is very particular. So understand it: with a third extension of Spain have more than triple the inhabitants (more than 158,28 million to 5 April 2015 against the 46,46 of Spain in 2014). The subsidence of buildings are the result of poor construction. It is estimated that if he climbed a little more than half meter water half of the country would be flooded.

The fact that 200 brands have coordinated, competing among themselves in the market, is positive, yet have no global instance that has been able to intervene; the ILO is helping, but from the initiative of others, not from his own, the structures of the United Nations have not been able to take the initiative, only a positive echo. It was the first time that there has been a collective agreement of a large number of companies with trade union structures to create instruments of action. We are generating multinational structures in some areas where there was no them. They have a clear incidence and can be reference for the world as a whole.

Bangladesh is an exception or in other countries where such businesses are also there are such practices?

“It was the first time that there has been a collective agreement of a large number of companies with trade union structures to create instruments of action”

Bangladesh is one of countries with economic levels and lower wages around the world. The lowest is Myanmar, the former Burma, where the salary is half of Bangladesh. In the zone with Cambodia, China, Thailand… There is a qualitatively similar situation, but is also producing a modification on the upside. In the case of Viet Nam, the increase of the minimum wage has been very high, at this time they are already at $150 a month and they started 30 or 40 dollars recently. Same case in Thailand and China, in this last has been big strikes in the metal and the computer area. Then we could also see similarities in India and Pakistan, in North Africa, in Ethiopia or in Peru and Bolivia, where there are other realities but not so different in many respects.

Are this type of manufacturing practice associated with only low cost or also to higher cost brands?

It is common to all. The higher cost may have a little better factories. The factories are technically very good, but are very similar. Low cost or higher-cost products are made in the same places. This type of factories are all brands.

If consumers now know this type of business, what share of responsibility we have to buy these brands?

We now know the reality and have a global knowledge course. There is a responsibility that does not only go through the fact buy or stop buying, although Perhaps if this will help us to establish a model of different consumption it would be interesting, but responsibility becomes that we feel us citizens and to intervene in the world through the institutions.

“Our passes responsibility you feel us citizens, and to intervene in the world through the institutions”

From the general point of view, trade unions have been raised in the World Trade Organization for years that global trade products have a guarantee of social cause, In short, a guarantee of a decent production system. The WTO is one of the few organizations that has coercive ability from the point of view of the regulation of world trade and have so far refused. In other words, Governments have refused.

We have the responsibility of who governs us and what does in international bodies. This is the responsibility that we assume the citizens, we cannot say that our opinion does not count. Clear that account via this type of institutions. There that we can have an impact. It is a very slow process. When we go to vote they think both in the performance of the Government on these issues, but in more immediate ways. And what happens in other parts of the world, including Bangladesh, has just impacting on other areas.

Human chain to demand compensation for frog Plaza, on October 23, 2013

What are the next challenges of the textile sector at this time?

That work will be decent. The rights of the work, which is to say human rights. In the background the essential now wouldn’t be both generalize, because it would be impossible today morning that everyone had the same salary, but that everyone had equal rights if. Therefore, the globalization of rights is the hub of the international activity of all these themes.