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Four years after the Rana Plaza tragedy:

Congregation’s investments serve as catalyst for garment industry change

By Sister Florence Deacon, OSF, Congregation Justice coordinator

One of the ways the Sisters of the Holy Cross work to build a society of justice and love is by using the Congregation’s investments to influence companies to treat workers justly and produce goods sustainably. As we observe the fourth anniversary of the April 24, 2013, collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh, that killed more than 1,100 people and injured thousands more, much has been accomplished to ensure worker safety—but much more work needs to be done.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Sisters of the Holy Cross joined other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) to use their investments as a catalyst for a safe and healthy Bangladeshi ready-made garment industry. As a result of such pressure, companies and trade unions signed and implemented a five-year, legally-binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to both protect and empower garment workers.

The Congregation’s General Leadership Team recently signed ICCR’s Investor Statement on the 4th Anniversary of the Rana Plaza Tragedy. The statement highlights these major successes:

  1. Over 200 global brands and retailers have collaborated to address threats to worker safety.
  2. 1,600 factories have been inspected and 75 percent of the identified safety issues have been fixed.
  3. Over 750,000 workers have received training under the Accord’s Safety Committee Program, which is critical to participation in worker/management safety committees at the factory level.
  4. Over 80 major safety complaints have been resolved through the program’s complaints mechanism.
  5. The results of inspections are published and progress on corrective action plans are updated, a positive signal that safety risks are being carefully and sustainably managed.

However, the investors noted in the statement that there are still serious structural issues in some garment factories and that "arbitrary arrests of union leaders by the Bangladesh police grew to 34 known arrests" following wage strikes in December 2016. According to the statement: "These actions raise serious questions for investors about the will and capacity of the government to implement their laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining, to adopt a regular wage review mechanism and to oversee the restructuring of the garment sector to protect the health and welfare of workers."

With only one year left in the five-year agreement, the investors recommended that the Accord be extended for a period of time to allow continued remediation of systemic issues that still threaten worker safety and livelihood. They also recommended was broadening of the scope of the agreement to include a focus on freedom of association and collective bargaining. Investors stressed the need for proper financing to remediate costly safety hazards, and concluded: "This historic initiative … has the potential to transform the Bangladesh garment sector and be a model for other supply chain initiatives designed to mitigate the risk to companies and to workers alike." Read more about this statement on ICCR's website Bangladesh Accord Illustrates Power of Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration to Address Supply Chain Issues.

We continue to evaluate the Congregation’s investment portfolio to determine which purchases may be a catalyst for social change in areas of importance to the sisters.

© 2016 Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. All rights reserved.