"The ruthless pursuit of profits, and a failure to heed clear warnings resulted in the death of hundreds of garment workers."
Chris Davis
Branch international officer
 
In response to the preventable deaths in the collapse Rana Plaza in May factory Bangladeshi garment workers went on strike and protested to demand action against the factory owners and government officials responsible for saying that cracks in the structure of the building did not warrant its closure the day before it collapsed.
The Rana Plaza factory workers had struck just the day before the collapse in fear of their safety, but been bullied back to work with the threat of loss of wages that many of them never got to see.
Survivors of the disaster, supported by workers from other factories, demanded justice and better health and safety laws as this is not the first disaster to strike. In November a fire at a factory in the capital Dhaka killed 111, mostly women, workers. 
Despite these and other deaths little has been done to protect the 4 million garment workers in Bangladesh, including the children employed in the factories.
 
Police attack safety protesters
Rather than grant what most of us would regard as a reasonable demand not to work in a death trap, employers closed  factories to prevent walk-outs and the government moblised its industrial police force to violently attack protesters to silence the outrage at the disaster and quash their demands.
Chris Davis, our branch International officer, wrote to the Bangladeshi Ambassador to the UK on behalf of the branch condemning the use of violence against the workers. The letter also called for “all garments to carry a union label, to indicate that it was manufactured under fair labour conditions.”
International solidarity also took the form of demanding laws to protect garment workers with pressure on Western companies that profit from the low wages to sign up to minimum safety standards in the factories where their profits are made.
In response to the actions of the garment workers and international solidarity the Bangladeshi government has agreed legislation that will allow workers to form unions without the permission of their employers and to tighten
building regulation enforcement.
The Bangladeshi government has also announced it is considering a rise in minimum wage for garment workers, something it has promised but failed to deliver for many years.

Employers forced to act
Since the worldwide consumer campaign H&M, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Primark and other retailers have signed up to a new agreement negotiated by global trade unions to establish minimum standards of fire safety in garment manufacturing sites.
Prior to the media attention surrounding the tragedy, there has been a long, continuing struggle by labour organisations
to improve conditions in Bangladesh which has been less well publicised. The most recent previous rise in minimum wage for garment workers in Bangladesh was in 2010, also following months of protests, marred by state violence. The 80% increase achieved may sound large, but the actual new minimum wage was £28 per month, for working up to 200 hours per month. According to TUC research, of a £6 T-shirt produced by these workers, only 2p of that cost is paid in wages to them -- about
0.33%. This information shows that a 1000% increase in wages would not make more than the slightest difference in price (source: “What Price Cheap Clothing”, Kevin Rowan), shattering the myth that bargain-hunting by Western consumers was to blame for dire working conditions in the developing world.

To HE Sheikh Khalifa Bin Ali Al-Khalifa

Ambassador to United Kingdom

Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain

Dear Sheikh Khalifa,

As health service workers and trade unionists in UNISON’s Oxford Health Branch, we condemn the attack which your government has launched against trade unionists in Bahrain. Thousands of workers have been attacked for legitimate trade union activities in support of peaceful calls for greater democracy and reform. As of last week, some 2,000 workers in 30 mainly government run enterprises have been sacked for joining trade union actions in support of dialogue and an end to violence, including 6 members of the Executive of the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU).

 The Bahrain trade unions have been at the forefront of the movement for dialogue, peace and reconciliation yet your government has clearly decided to try and destroy them. Government-sponsored groups have erected billboards calling for the ‘execution’ of opposition leaders and the government has chosen the path of violence, threats and confrontation in seeking to quash the legitimate aspirations, including freedom of association, of the Bahraini people, as articulated by the GFBTU.

 We join the international trade union campaign which has condemned the actions of your government and lend our voice to all those demanding the reinstatement of all sacked workers and the establishment of full and legitimate trade union rights in Bahrain.

 Yours sincerely,

 UNISON Health Oxford, Branch Executive.