Workplace Health and Safety

Despite the existence of national and international laws that protect workers’ right to safe and healthy working environments, factory conditions remain unsafe across the garment industry. The risk of transmission of Covid-19 in crowded garment factories has introduced yet another serious threat to workers’ health.

Many of these safety and health hazards are longstanding. Some factories have lacked proper safety equipment for workers or exposed them to dangerous chemicals. Others have had unsafe electrical wiring, which increases the risk of fire—a danger often compounded by a lack adequate alarm systems and escape routes. And some factories, particularly in Bangladesh and across South Asia, are structurally unsound, which increases the risk of a building collapse like the one at Rana Plaza in 2013, which killed 1,137 workers.

Ensuring that factories have healthy and safe working conditions has always been part of the WRC’s investigative process, and continues to be a priority during the current pandemic. The WRC investigates worker reports of health and safety violations—from excessive temperatures inside factories to lack of social distancing on employer-provided transportation—and presses brands and factory owners to ensure these hazards are corrected.

Protecting Worker Health during Covid-19

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the WRC partnered with occupational health specialists to develop infection control guidelines for garment factories and reached out to brands and factory owners to assess the steps they were taking to protect workers—and to empower workers to protect themselves. As outbreaks emerge at factories across the globe, the WRC continues to engage with employers and brands to ensure that workers who are exposed to the virus on the job receive the testing, treatment, time off work, and compensation they need and deserve.

The International Safety Accord

The WRC had been urging multinational apparel brands to improve health and safety in Bangladesh garment factories for years when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013. Following that tragedy, the WRC helped lead the creation of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the first modern legally-binding commitment that requires brands to allow independent inspections of their supplier factories and to pay for crucial safety repairs. The Bangladesh Accord's successor agreement, the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry covers over two million workers in 1,400 factories and has 180 Signatories.

Thanks to the Accord, more than 130,000 safety repairs have been made at hundreds of factories across Bangladesh—and at least 50 extremely unsafe factories were evacuated, any one of which could have been the next Rana Plaza.

The WRC provides strategic and logistical support in implementing and enforcing the International Accord through our role as a witness signatory on the Accord Steering Committee, and through support to our labor and NGO allies.