What future for the Bangladesh Accord and the safety of garment workers? | Apparel Industry Commentary
Accord brought “phenomenal change” on the ground, inspecting more than 1,600 factories, says BGIWF
In the wake of the Bangladesh Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, two initiatives were put in place to oversee the country’s garment factories for fire, electrical and structural issues – the Alliance for Worker Safety of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The Alliance’s mandate ends next month, and garment workers are very concerned if another agreement is not signed soon.
Under the supervision of the Accord and the Alliance, Bangladesh now has one of the safest and most transparent ready-to-wear industries (RMGs) in the world. But that could now be threatened.
After an initial five-year term, the Agreement’s mandate was extended until the end of May 2021. Its technical responsibilities were transferred to the National Council for Sustainable Development of RMG (RSC), which was set up l ‘last year, but brands and retailers have no legally binding obligations towards it. And while there have been discussions to renegotiate the Accord, nothing has yet been agreed or signed.
“In this current situation, where we are racing against time, where the Accord has been such a successful program, it is really on the verge of not continuing because of the brands’ current refusal to continue with a deal that goes with it. . the same lines and principles that we have now, “said Alke Boessiger, head of the trade department of UNI Global Union, signatory of the Bangladesh Accord, at a roundtable organized last week by Clean Clothes Campaign and facilitated by the Worker Rights Consortium.
“There is no doubt that in the years since 2013 there has been a lot of progress in Bangladesh, but the RSC does not have the same responsibility, the same enforcement mechanisms, to hold brands accountable. as we did in the Accord. The issue of individual brands being accountable to their supply chains is important. We cannot do this with RCS alone. We need a global agreement with brands and unions. “
Transform an industry
According to the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), the Agreement has brought about “phenomenal change” over the past eight years, inspecting more than 1,600 factories and improving the safety of over 2 million. of workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, more than 120,000 safety risks have been corrected.
“If we had had an agreement before Rana Plaza, we could have saved all these lives,” says Kalpona Akter, president of BGIWF and founder of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS). “Under the Accord, the voice of the worker was included, so that workers could say very freely how they felt when working in the factory, if there was a crack in the building or a fire door was necessary. It is the first time that the Worker has been recognized as a human being, not as the equipment of factories.
“If there is no binding liability, then [the RSC] will not be credible at all and the unions will probably withdraw. It is very clear and strong. Unions will not be with anything where they have no legal obligation or where workers’ voices cannot be heard. “
Last month, the European Parliament adopted a report calling on the Commission to propose legislation requiring companies to set human rights in their supply chains. It calls for the urgent adoption of binding EU legislation ensuring that companies are held accountable when they undermine – or contribute to undermine – human rights, the environment and good governance.
Still, Christina Hajagos Clausen, director of apparel at IndustriAll Global Union, a signatory to the Bangladesh Accord, notes that increased calls for companies to exercise due diligence on all parts of their operations are exactly what the Accord says. did: “They had to take responsibility for all of their suppliers in Bangladesh. This was possible because we had a legally binding agreement that held them accountable for everything they did.
“The new legislation is going to force this on all brands, and having an agreement like the Accord, which we want to continue and expand to other countries, is the perfect tool for companies to comply with these calls for. legislation because it forces companies to develop internal systems, internal mechanisms, to really have control over their supply chains.
“For businesses, signing a new successor to the Accord and extending it with us to other countries is what they should do if they are to be in compliance with these calls for due diligence legislation in Europe. . “
A plan for international adoption
Along with negotiations between unions and brands to extend the Accord to Bangladesh, discussions are also underway to extend it to other countries where building and worker safety is threatened. For example Pakistan.
Nasir Mansoor, president of the National Federation of Trade Unions in Pakistan, a strong advocate for decisive binding action for workplace safety in the country, told the panel he would like to see the initiative extended to other producing countries. merchandise.
“In Pakistan, we are working with IndustriAll and Clean Clothes to find a Bangladesh deal. For the moment, brands are undermining their responsibility. We have seen it in the Covid situation. Workers’ conditions are deteriorating, so the only way to resolve the issue in the RMG sector is to have some sort of binding treaty with brands.
“When there is pressure on brands, they accept responsibility; when there is not, they do not accept it. So we need some sort of common strategy and we are somehow forcing brands to live up to their commitment. and Ali Enterprises that if we don’t have the strength and unified actions, brands will always try to shirk their responsibilities. If we want workers to get something from brands and force them to sign up, we need some kind of binding treaty and agreement otherwise it can’t work. “
Boessiger says it is important that the lessons, protocols and processes of the Accord are taken and developed for other countries.
“Of course, we have to see in each country who the local stakeholders are. Each will have a different governance. What is important is that all stakeholders are involved, like workers, unions, brands that buy to country and governments. We want government to be involved from the start. Let’s take success with us, but tailor it to each country with all the local players. “
Trade unions and industry organizations are now calling on brands to sign a global deal that will propel the work of the Accord into the future and remove any risk of a return to self-control.
“In March of this year alone, 40 garment workers in Egypt and Morocco lost their lives in dangerous factories,” says Clausen. “So our call as global unions is to sign a global agreement so that we can learn the best lessons learned from Bangladesh, a proven safety program that we have collectively worked hard on, that this is the right way forward. . Factory issues are This is nothing new to this industry and we don’t think safety issues should be put aside just yet. Now is the time to move forward with the deal. global. It would be legally binding and that is the key part of this project. the next step we need. It is important for workers all over the world to be able to go to work in safety. “
Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign, says the brands are proposing a new agreement that will not be legally binding and has no independent secretariat to oversee compliance.
“Under cover of the establishment of a new structure, what is happening is a return to self-control. Between these two things, the dismantling of the independent secretariat and the unions no longer being able to sue brands. , two of the key features of the Agreement’s success will be removed.
“I find it incredible that in the context of Covid, and in light of all the other issues plaguing the industry in Bangladesh and other countries, eight years later, we have to fight again to maintain existence program we all agree on. functional. “
To mark the eighth anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, industry leaders also discussed in style why there is no room for complacency when it comes to the safety of Bangladeshi workers.