Bangladeshi representatives voiced a call to action to the University of Wisconsin-Madison at a committee meeting Thursday, asking those in attendance to support a pact that would ensure rights of foreign garment workers.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued a statement on her blog post, Blank’s Slate, outlining the current issues regarding employee mistreatment with manufacturers in other nations that produce UW-Madison apparel, specifically noting the incidents of worker abuse and misconduct in Bangladesh.
Blank highlighted the building collapse that occurred in the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh last year, when over 1,100 workers perished. While UW-Madison itself was not involved in the particular factory, the university is looking in to ensure the safety of its over-sea workers.
“I am committed to ongoing attention and dialogue over these issues,” Blank said in the post. “We are constantly looking to educate our licenses and improve our code, to the benefit of workers and companies.”
The Labor Codes Licensing Compliance Committee, which regulates and maintains the licenses of manufacturers associated with UW-Madison, asked Blank in December to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety petition in December, which would support efforts to ensure worker safety in Bangladesh.
While Blank acknowledged in a letter to LCLCC in January she has received sufficient information regarding the Accord, she said she is also interested in hearing information on a similar effort, called the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.
Everett Mitchell, Director of Community Relations in the Office of University Relations, attended the meeting on behalf of Blank and said the chancellor is looking to have substantial evidence on both efforts before choosing a pact to align with.
The committee presented information comparing both pacts, honing in on the concerns of inspection procedures, worker involvement, enforcement and overall cost.
Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, and Reba Sikder, a 19-year-old Rana Plaza factory worker, attended the meeting to voice their support for the Accord.
Akter said she believes with the Accord, workers’ voices will be heard and there will be greater steps to ensure inspections are issued for the factories.
“We need your support to have a safer workplace,” Sikder said, after detailing the suppression faced as a worker with little representation.
The LCLCC plans to hold a special meeting within the coming weeks to present a recommendation to the chancellor on which pact to endorse.