Bangladeshi garment worker activist speaks at rally at Vancouver’s HBC store

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THE BC Federation of Labour on Monday staged a rally at Vancouver’s downtown HBC store (The Bay) to demand that the company sign the Bangladesh Accord, a legally binding agreement designed to make all garment factories safe workplaces.

The event featured Kalpona Akter, a former garment worker and founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), as well as BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair.

In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster, which killed more than 1,100 people and injured 1,600 more in April 2013, the Bangladesh Accord calls for independent safety inspections at garment factories and for public reporting of the results of these inspections. It also commits retailers to ensuring that repairs are carried out, that sufficient funds are made available to do so, and that workers at these factories continue to be paid while repairs are undertaken.

The Accord has already been signed by over 100 apparel corporations from 19 countries in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia, including H&M, Loblaws, and Adidas. The rally called on Canada’s HBC to sign the Bangladesh Accord.

Kalpona started working in the garment industry when she was only 12 years old. At 16, she was fired for trying to organize a union in her factory. In 2001, she and two other former garment workers founded the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), which conducts labour rights and leadership training for garment workers, and advocates for their rights.

Kalpona and her colleagues have been subjected to serious repression for their work. Fellow BCWS leader Aminul Islam was assassinated, Kalpona and other activists were imprisoned, and the organization’s legal status was revoked by government. Only thanks to international solidarity have they been able to win their freedom and regain their status.

Recently, the BCWS has been providing support to the victims of the Rana Plaza building collapse, lobbying for compensation for all the victims of the disaster, and demanding that brands and retailers sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.