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The Bangladesh safety accord expires in May. What next?

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

May 12, 2021

Fashion

Image Credit: Clean Clothes Campaign

Bangladesh in 2021 remains a garment manufacturing hub for the world’s leading high street and mid-market brands. It is also a region with a well-documented history of factory incidents and unsafe workplaces for its garment workers.

After the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, which killed over 1,100 workers, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was set up, to make factories safer for workers, ushering in a new era of real change. That accords expires May 31st, and urgent action must be taken to protect progress for workplace safety.

The Bangladesh Accord brought great progress to the safety situation for over 2 million garment workers in Bangladesh, but this progress needs to be protected - Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC)

The Accord was deemed successful because it is a binding agreement that has real punishments for brands, retailers, and factories who do not take enough action. Unions take up half of the seats in the Accord’s governance structures and can hold brands accountable. But the agreement that makes this kind of legal action possible will run out in a fortnight, and there is no sign of a new agreement. A new international binding agreement will have to be signed to keep the Accord’s most effective elements in place, and can also be used to ensure that eventually other countries will be covered by a similar programme.

Some brands and retailers informed the CCC they prefer to limit their activities to Bangladesh and to put their trust in the new national body that was established last year in which worker representatives hold only hold one third, instead of half of the governance seats. This means they could backtrack on earlier promises to continue to safeguard the binding element of the Accord in an international agreement.

Responsibility

In the current Accord, fashion brands, together with their supplier factory, are responsible for compensating workers during any closure for remediation and maintenance resulting from the inspections. The inspections are carried out by safety inspectors from international firms, and Bangladesh engineers. The Accord is unique in being supported by all key labour rights stakeholders in Bangladesh and internationally, and being legally binding.

This first Accord programme ended in May 2018, which led to a Transition Accord, but agreement for the new accord was less than universal. The Bangladesh government and employers’ organization stated that they no longer needed the Accord.

Frequent factory fires

The frequent fires that continued to happen in Bangladesh showed that contrary to what the government and factory owners say, national inspection agencies in Bangladesh are not yet ready to take over the work of the Accord. They showed cases of broken promises, unsafe buildings, and factories deemed too dangerous to produce in that continued to operate.

It is imperative for brands and retailers to reaffirm their commitment and continue the legally binding protection the workers desperately need.

While all Accord signatories agreed early in 2020 to a new agreement between unions and brands to be negotiated with a view for the Accord safety programme to be expanded to Pakistan,” now brands are saying that they want to limit the work to Bangladesh and shying away from signing a new international agreement with the unions.

“We can’t allow the major achievement that came out of the horrible tragedy of the Rana Plaza collapse to backslide, or to keep this successful programme away from workers in countries such as Pakistan who have been asking for a meaningful safety system,” says the CCC.

Brands and retailers must act now to protect progress and ensure an incident like Rana Plaza can never happen again.

Article source: Clean Clothes Campaign