Best&Less accused of failing Bangladesh factory workers, slammed for not signing International Accord

Australian homewares and clothing retailer Best&Less has been savagely lashed by an anti-poverty advocacy group as one of the few major Australian retailers who have failed to sign a document fighting for workers’ safety in overseas factories.

International non-government organisation ActionAid called on the discount bargain store to “do the right thing” and sign the industry-standard International Accord, which ensures clothing factories in Bangladesh abide by inspection and training requirements and have lifesaving safety requirement like fire doors, fire alarms and sprinkler systems.

Brand signatories, including Kmart, Big W, Country Road, Witchery, The Iconic, and Cotton On, also financially contribute to ensure repairs, training and inspections are conducted at the factories.

ActionAid Australia executive director Michelle Higelin accused Best&Less of putting profit before the safety of the largely female workforce who make the brand’s clothing.

It’s understood the budget retailer sources 25 per cent of its internationally manufactured products from Bangladesh, which amounts to 20 factories.

“Best&Less need to do the right thing and at the very least ensure the women making their products in Bangladesh have the most basic right to return home safely from work each day,” she says.

“Best&Less have an ethical and corporate responsibility to financially contribute to safety improvements across factories in their supply chain. By refusing to sign the Accord, Best&Less are out of step with the rest of the industry.”

ActionAid’s call for change coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse on April 24, 2013, in Savar Upazila, Bangladesh. The factory produced clothes for international fast-fashion brands like Benetton, Matalan, Mango, and Primark.

The tragedy killed 1133 textile workers, with more than 2000 injured. In a survey undertaken by ActionAid of 200 Rana Plaza survivors, 54.5 per cent were still unemployed, with 89 per cent of survivors having gone without work in the past five to eight years.

Key reasons were attributed to declining physical health and the ongoing trauma and fear from the building collapse.

Since the International Accord was first implemented in 2013, ActionAid Bangladesh Women’s Rights manager Tamazer Ahmed said improvements had been made in raising the minimum wage and getting workers basic entitlements like baseline maternity leave.

“The ready-made garment sector employs over 2½ million women and represents 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s exports yet these workers have historically worked incredibly long hours for little pay in often dangerous conditions,” she said.

Ms Ahmed said the ability of the Accord to protect workers was dependent on the co-operation and commitment of major brands.

“We can’t make further progress unless Australian brands like Best&Less get on board,” she says.

A spokesperson for Best&Less, which had no involvement in the Rana Plaza building collapse, said while the company had “not signed up to the Accord at this time”, it was having “proactive discussions with Bangladesh International Accord on this topic”.

“Best&Less takes workplace health and safety very seriously and we value the work undertaken by ActionAid Australia to promote this in fashion supply chains,” they said.

“While we appreciate the role that the Accord plays in Bangladesh, the Best&Less sourcing code extends beyond these parameters both in terms of our requirements and the countries it applies to.

“Best&Less undertakes comprehensive 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”.

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