Best&Less has been criticized as one of the few major Australian retailers to have failed to sign a document calling for the safety of workers in overseas factories.
The international non-governmental organization ActionAid called on the discount store to “do the right thing” and sign the industry-standard International Accord.
The agreement ensures garment factories in Bangladesh adhere to inspection and training requirements and life-saving safety requirements such as fire doors, fire alarms and sprinkler systems.
Best&Less has been criticized as one of the few major Australian retailers to fail to sign a document calling for worker safety in overseas factories (stock image)
Brand signatories including Kmart, Big W, Country Road, Witchery, The Iconic and Cotton On also contribute financially to ensure repairs, training and inspections are carried out at the factories.
Michelle Higelin, executive director of ActionAid Australia, accused Best&Less of putting profit before the safety of the largely female workforce who make the brand’s clothing.
Clearly, the budget retailer sources 25 percent of its internationally manufactured products from Bangladesh, which equates to 20 factories.
“Best&Less must do the right thing and at the very least ensure that the women who make their products in Bangladesh have the most basic right to get home safely from work every day,” she says.
“Best&Less has an ethical and business responsibility to contribute financially to safety improvements at factories in their supply chain. By refusing to sign the Agreement, Best&Less is out of step with the rest of the industry.’
ActionAid’s call for change coincides with the 10th anniversary of the April 24, 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Savar Upazila, Bangladesh.
The factory produced clothing for international fast-fashion brands such as Benetton, Matalan, Mango and Primark.
The tragedy killed 1,133 textile workers and more than 2,000 were injured.
In a survey conducted by ActionAid of 200 Rana Plaza survivors, 54.5 percent were still unemployed, with 89 percent of survivors out of work for the past five to eight years.
The main reasons were attributed to declining physical health and the ongoing trauma and fear of the building collapsing.
Since the first implementation of the international accord in 2013, ActionAid Bangladesh Women’s Rights manager Tamazer Ahmed said improvements had been made in raising the minimum wage and getting basic workers’ rights, such as standard maternity leave.
The aftermath of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment building. Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP
The tragedy killed more than 1,133 textile workers and injured another 2,000. Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP
“The ready-to-wear sector employs more than 2½ million women and accounts for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s exports, but these workers have traditionally worked incredibly long hours for little pay in often hazardous conditions,” she said.
Ms Ahmed said the Accord’s ability to protect workers depended on the cooperation and commitment of major brands.
“We can’t make any further progress unless Australian brands like Best&Less get involved,” she says.
A spokesperson for Best&Less, which was not involved in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, said that while the company “had not signed the Accord at this time,” it was “holding proactive talks with Bangladesh International Accord on this issue.”
“Best&Less takes health and safety in the workplace very seriously and we appreciate ActionAid Australia’s work to promote this in the fashion supply chains,” they said.
“While we appreciate the role the Accord plays in Bangladesh, the Best&Less Procurement Code goes beyond these parameters, both in terms of our requirements and the countries to which it applies.
“Best&Less conducts extensive factory assessments and audits in every country we work with.”
They said the company’s audits covered the factories’ “environmental impact, social practices, ethical practices and safety requirements and certifications.”