Mike-Dave Ayeni
Sustainable Fashion Writer

The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety is an independent, legal consensus between labor unions, apparel brands, retailers, manufacturers, and the garment factories they outsource to, to create, ensure and enforce working place safety for the workers involved in garment and textile production in Bangladesh.

The Safety Accord was effected on the 31st of May, 2013, the first of its kind. It was an expiring contract set to last for five years. However, as the expiration date neared in 2018, it was agreed first to extend the agreement for three months, and then eventually, three years.

Apprehension grew as the 31st of May neared in 2021, with disagreements rising within the accord as to whether it should be renewed or not. The contents of the agreement meant that brands signed to it were responsible for making sure the factories that handled their production were able to afford to carry out safety requirements, even if it meant paying more.

Being held to this level of responsibility was not always well met, as it had even sparked some resistance among manufacturers and garment factory owners in Bangladesh. “The Accord was making them do something they’ve never had to do before: make their factories safer and in some cases spend a lot of money to do so, and the BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) and manufacturers quite honestly just got fatigued.” Said Laura Guttierez, a witness signatory on the Accord, from the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).

As the expiry date to the original contract drew near, it became important to address the need for a new, better, and expanded agreement, which has given birth to the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Sector. This initiative was accepted on the 25th of August, commenced on the 1st of September, 2021, and is set to cover the next two years.

https://www.industriall-union.org/

Source: https://www.industriall-union.org/

Why The Need For The Bangladesh Accord?

The Dhaka Tragedy

On the 24th of April, 2013, a tragedy occurred that sparked the flame for the Bangladesh accord. Rana Plaza, a building located in the Dhaka District of Bangladesh that had housed five garment-making factories, collapsed due to negligence and employee censorship resulting in a death toll of 1134, and reportedly over 2500 injuries, according to Wikipedia.

This terrible event triggered overwhelming public outrage. The fact that this was just one of many workplace accidents that had resulted in mass employee deaths in Bangladesh since the 90s, not to mention that this garment factory has served as an apparel production base for huge international garment brands like Walmart and Primark only fueled the mass outrage.

A call for brands who manufacture in Bangladesh to take responsibility for the safety of the Bangladeshi garment workers employed by the factories they patronised gained massive support, with people around the globe signing petitions to this effect, but for a while, all brands did was send representatives to inspect factory premises, with nothing being done to improve the working conditions.

Eventually, further public outcry for a legal agreement gained the attention of trade unions around the world, and large fashion brands enough to have their representatives meet and negotiate the terms of the accord in 2013.

The International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Sector

Following the massive improvement accomplished by the original agreement in Bangladesh Factory safety for their garment workers, it became obvious that the rest of the world needed to join in. This new and improved expansion on the original Bangladesh contract seeks to include more countries in the agreement, and by extension, more brands.

With the strides taken in the Australian fashion industry towards implementing ethical practices, Australian fashion companies must enlist with this initiative that has been created to give protection to the most exploitable in the industry and create a healthier, safer, and more organic working environment for garment and textile workers around the globe.

As reported by the Australian Union for garment industry workers, as of mid-December 2021, practically every Australian brand that had joined and supported the previous accord has signed on to the new one, excluding four major brands, Licensing Essentials Pty Ltd, Speciality Fashion Group, Design Works and The Just Group, all four of which, manufacture overseas. As of the 11th of January, 2022 just one of these four companies (The Just Group), which own some of Australia’s largest fashion brands has signed on.

What Does The Accord Do?

Over the last eight years, the enforcement of the Bangladesh accord has seen the improvement of workplace health and safety conditions for garment workers by ensuring that the brands signed onto the accord agreed to keep their patronage restricted to factories that met the stated ethical standards and safety requirements. This also meant that factories that didn’t would receive no business from all of the nearly two hundred brands signed to the initiative. That, along with a few other important elements made the agreement so successful, and here are some of them:

•Independent Complaints System for workers

Creating an ‘access to remedy’ system that bypassed third-party interference enabled workers to air and report their workplace safety concerns confidently without fear.

Currently, over 1,450 complaints have been filed by workers and their representatives to the accord. These complaints cover safety concerns, unfair terminations, reinstatements, safety training, and more, overseen by the Accord.

•Carrying out Thorough Inspections of Garment Factories’ Facilities

To date, 38,368 factory inspections have been carried out in Bangladesh by the accord, the results of which have initiated remediations, workers’ safety training, and the resolution of complaints. 

The result of this diligent oversight is that of the 1600 factories in Bangladesh, there has been 90% initial remediation, 414 remediated factories, and 1355 established factory safety committees over the last eight years, as reported on the Bangladesh Accord website.

•Enforcing payment agreements between brands and factories

To ensure that the factories can afford the costs of repairs, renovations, and meet the safety requirements, part of the agreement is that Accord brands agree to take responsibility for the remediation costs and pay fees deemed reasonable by the Accord towards funding this.

•Exclusive patronage agreement from brands

The brands on the safety initiative also agree to only source from manufacturers that uphold safety standards and take them seriously. Accord brands are not to patronize factories that carry out unsafe practices which ensures that factories such as this have no hope of business from any of the 200 brands on the list.

•Shared governance and transparent reporting policies

This practice helps eliminate power imbalances within the Accord, ensuring that both the brands and labor are sufficiently represented in governance and decision making. Also, all important and necessary information is transparently shared by the accord with every involved party within the agreement, making sure that everyone is kept informed at all times. In addition to this, the necessary information in the implementation of the Accord policies is shared with the public and regularly updated.

•Legal Enforcement

All of the agreements made within the Accord are legally binding. This means that breaking Accord agreements can lead to a lawsuit and is prosecutable in court.

The new International Accord on Health and Safety in the Garment and Textile Sector retains all of these agreements and includes some important improvements.

The Expansions Made in the 2021 International Accord

There are two major improvements made in the 2021 accord agreements:

  1. Inclusion of Health in Safety Measures

Due to the nature of the events that sparked the creation of the 2013 Accord, like the collapse of the Rana Plaza and the numerous tragic factory fires that had occurred in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, like the title suggests, mainly focused on Fire and building safety hazards. 

However, the new International Accord includes catering and responding to factory Health hazards and concerns for employee health.

According to Christie Miedema, the Campaign and Outreach coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), with the aid of the complaint mechanism, the Accord is “able to respond to any health and safety complaints, not only building safety and fire. Workers have complained about things like excessive overtime, which constitutes a health risk, as well as lack of maternity leave and other health-related issues; the complaint mechanism has responded to that. The new Accord has been renamed because it’s also the new reality we’re living in — factory building safety right now is also about keeping one and a half meters’ distance between desks. The International Accord is just adapting to changing times and also, maybe, ongoing progress in what can be addressed. If you come a long way on building safety you have more space to look towards other safety issues.”

  1. Opening Up the Agreement to Other Countries

The biggest improvement to the original agreement is that the International Accord expands the agreement to include other countries, taking on more brands and covering more factories. A big win for global ethical fashion standards.