This week marked the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. 1,100 people died that day, crushed when their factory collapsed, many of them making clothes for the British high street.
A report out this week by Human Rights Watch shows that disregard of garment workers’ rights in Bangladesh continues. Workers suffer physical and verbal abuse, forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leave, failure to pay wages on time or in full, pressure not to use the toilet, and dirty drinking water.
Abuse of workers happens on a frightening scale across the world. Every 15 seconds an employee dies from a work-related accident or disease, two million people a year.
Tomorrow 168 million child workers will go to work on family farms, in garment factories and in some cases tragically as sex workers.
The world cannot wait for another Rana Plaza disaster to clean up fashion’s dirty secret. There is still much to be done in Bangladesh and elsewhere. The victims’ compensation fund for Rana Plaza is still $6m short. Shoppers need to know that the people who made their clothes and grew their food have decent work and can live decent lives. There must be no more fashion victims.
As the Labour party, we understand that without a thriving economy, without small businesses and private sector investment, there will never be a world without aid. But this government’s approach to supporting economic growth is misguided. Their decision to put hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into opaque private sector investment funds was heavily criticised by the National Audit Office and the public accounts committee.
Labour has a better plan to promote economic growth in the world’s poorest countries. We will work with companies to ensure they have sustainable supply chains that are free from slavery, treat their workers fairly, and pay taxes where they are due.
Development is driven through job creation. But not just any job. Not work that enslaves people. Not work that keeps children out of school, trapped in poverty.
Labour is the party of working people. Our movement was born from the passionate conviction that people should have decent work, decent pay, rest breaks, and the freedom to join a trade union. In government we matched our values with actions. We set up the Ethical Trading Initiative to encourage industry to work with unions and NGOs to address workers’ rights issues. We encouraged councils and cities to become fairtrade. We supported the International Labour Organisation, which this government cut as soon as it took office. And even in opposition, Labour members of parliament strengthened the modern slavery bill by forcing companies to report on their efforts to eradicate slavery in their supply chains.
Today, Ed Miliband will renew our Labour’s commitment to reducing inequality and fighting global poverty. Not because it is the right thing to do, but because it defines who we are as a country. And because it is in Britain’s national interest that we build a better, stronger, safer world for everyone.
If Labour wins the general election we will work in fragile and conflict-affected states to improve the lives of those affected by violence, prioritising the protection and education of women and children. We will rebalance the budget to focus funding on the world’s poorest. We will tackle inequality by rebalancing the development budget towards the world’s poorest countries. And we will establish a Centre for Universal Health Coverage to provide the support, encouragement, and global partnerships needed to help countries provide free healthcare.
In 11 days voters face a clear choice: Five more years of a Conservative government that treats international development as charity. Or a Labour government that will fight for justice for the world’s poorest people.
Mary Creagh is shadow secretary of state for international development. She tweets @mary4wakefield
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