Western companies 'should share blame' for Bangladesh factory conditions

Laura Kuenssberg

Former Business Editor

Mohamed Mijarul Quayes has attached Western companies for 'haggling'. Credit: ITV News

I’ve just been speaking to the Bangladeshi High Commissioner to London, Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, about the impact of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka.

The garment industry is enormously important to Bangladesh, some 80 percent of their exports, around 10 percent to the UK.

He told me he believes that Western companies share some of the blame for conditions in the factories because they drive such a hard bargain.

He told ITV News, buyers “go round these manufacturers and they negotiate every cent of it…at the end of the day they place their order with those who give them the most economy in terms of cents….that is a pity.

"If you are cutting a cent here you cut a cent across the entire production chain.”

The High Commissioner said “I believe this haggling on every cent has a negative impact on the terms of employment and on work conditions – that is decidedly the fact.”

He said that while an increase in price might mean the “middle class here might have to pay a bit more …people who are responsible manufacturers and buyers would recognise that much of this would have to be absorbed by them – instead of being rent seekers they would be prudent entrepreneurs and businessmen”.

Yet he had praise for Primark, who are offering not just emergency assistance but also long term aid to workers at their suppliers, telling me, “Primark has led by example…there is not an obligation to do so, but it speaks of the high moral ground.”

Primark has announced they will pay compensation to the families of the victims of the Dhaka disaster Credit: Lewis Stickley/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Today Premier Clothing and Matalan have said they will also provide financial assistance to the victims. But like with Primark it is not at all clear how much compensation or support will be provided, and for how long.

Read: British companies pledge financial support to those affected by the factory collapse in Bangladesh

Mango are not planning to give any support at the moment, pointing out that they were planning to have samples made by one of the suppliers in the Rana Plaza building, and nothing was at that point in manufacture.

War on Want, the campaign group, has just said that Matalan’s statement of support falls far short of what is required, “Matalan’s words of sympathy will be cold comfort to those affected without action that would ensure such a disaster never happens again.”

Read: Primark - Taking responsibility over Dhaka?