​What’s next for the Bangladesh Accord? Q&A


Five years on from one of the most tragic industry accidents to date at
Rana Plaza, which saw more than 1100 people lose their lives, and the
inspectors working to improve the safety of the textile factory workers
might have to leave Bangladesh.

An eviction of the group – which was set up by more than 200 apparel
companies to improve workplace safety at more than 1,600 factories – could
prove harmful for workplace safety, with about 500 manufacturers facing the
possibility of losing their business ties with major fashion companies.

While the next court hearing has been set for 21 January, the date has
been postponed several times already, leaving the future of the Bangladesh
Accord uncertain.

What’s the latest?

In May, a High Court in Bangladesh ordered the Accord to stop its work
by 30 November, 2018. The Accord appealed the decision and the Supreme
court issued a stay against the order to leave the country. In the latest
turn of events, the Accord and the government now have one month to discuss
how to guarantee safety at the factories in Bangladesh until the next court
hearing on 21 January. Meanwhile, the Accord is continuing its work.

Why is this happening?

The government of Bangladesh believes that the Accord is no longer
needed because no major accidents have happened since 2013. It also claims
that the Remediation Coordination Cell – a national regulatory body – is
ready to adopt the Bangladesh Accord’s role of keeping textile workers
safe. Bangladesh garment factory owners and their lobby have complained
that they often didn’t receive financial support for costly factory
upgrades requested by the Accord. But if the fixes weren’t made then
fashion companies would terminate the business relationship.

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How much does it cost to upgrade a factory and who pays?

“Under the Accord, a factory has to spend an estimated average amount
of 200,000-300,000 US dollars to upgrade its buildings,” said Joris
Oldenziel, Deputy Director for Implementation at the Bangladesh Accord
Foundation in Amsterdam. While fashion companies which have signed the
Accord are required to negotiate with their suppliers to ensure it’s
financially feasible to carry out the fixes, factories tend to have to pay
for upgrades on their own, a report published in November suggests.

“None of our respondents reported receiving loans or other forms of help
with safety improvements”, the Garment Supply Chain Project found after
surveying 152 Bangladeshi garment factory managers and 1500 workers.
Financial assistance mostly happens via advance payments, loans, longer-term
order commitments or larger order volumes, Oldenziel told FashionUnited.
It’s hard for the Accord to provide figures due to the fact that
negotiations about financing take place between suppliers and apparel
companies.

Why can’t Bangladesh fix the safety issues within its textile industry
itself?

The national regulatory body, RCC, isn’t ready, according to the
Bangladesh Accord, labor unions and non-government organisations such as
the Clean Clothes Campaign. The staffing isn’t sufficient yet to replace
the work done by the Accord, and to guarantee the transfer of knowledge,
the Accord needs to continue until 2021 as initially agreed with the
government of Bangladesh, the groups demand. ”The significant remediation
done so far means that the chances of mass fatalities have significantly
declined”, said Oldenziel by phone. “But it doesn’t mean it cannot happen
again, as long as adequate fire detection and protection systems and safe
exits for workers are still lacking in hundreds of factories.”

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What will the Accord do if it has to leave the country?

The agreement signed between fashion companies and labour unions to
ensure workers’ safety isn’t nullified if the Accord office is closed down
in Bangladesh, said Oldenziel. “We would have to seek alternative ways to
continue to implement the Accord with the best of our ability from outside
Bangladesh.” In the short-term, operations would resume from Amsterdam and
the Accord would contract engineering firms to work in Bangladesh, he said.
An office near to Bangladesh is being considered as an option for the
medium term.

Where would this leave the country’s garment manufacturers?

In the case that the Accord has to leave the country, it may not have
enough people in Bangladesh to monitor the upgrades needed at some 500
factories. Without monitoring, safety fixes can’t be confirmed and fashion
companies may have to terminate their business with “a large part” of these
companies as part of the legally-binding agreement they signed with labor
unions under the Accord. This means more than a tenth of Bangladesh’s more
than 4000 garment manufacturers are at risk of losing business.

Including subcontractors, more than 7000 companies might by involved in
the garment sector and it could cost 1.2 billion US dollars to erase
dangerous conditions in Bangladesh, which is the world’s second largest
apparel exporter, according to a report by the NYU Stern Center for
Business and Human Rights published in April.

How have fashion companies working with Bangladesh textile suppliers
reacted?

After the initial five-year term of the Accord ended in May, it was
renewed to run until 2021 and still includes 191 mostly European apparel
companies from Dutch C&A to Spanish fast fashion retailer Inditex. “The
vast majority of the brands are very supportive of the Accord and want it
to continue because everybody agrees that it’s a far from ideal to implement
operate the Accord from outside Bangladesh”, Oldenziel said.

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Textilbundnis, a German initiative including companies such as Hugo Boss
and Esprit, sent a letter to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in
August, urging her to allow the Accord to continue its operations until
2021.

The Swedish H&M Group works with 250 Bangladeshi production units
currently and is monitoring the situation closely. “Our presence and
commitment in our production markets is long-term”, said a spokesperson of
Hennes & Mauritz AB by e-mail. The fashion company has been sourcing from
Bangladesh for more than 30 years.

Bangladesh exports more than 30 billion US-dollar worth of clothes a
year, mostly to the United States and Europe. What could politicians do to
ensure the safety of the workers supplying their countries’ consumers?

Although 85 percent of the Bangladesh Accord goals were achieved, it’s
still necessary to continue operations, said members of the European
Parliament in a letter addressed to the EU Commission. Two Dutch
parliamentarians, Agnes Jongerius and Kirsten van den Hul, also mention in
an article on oneworld.nl that the European Union could increase pressure
on Bangladesh’s government by reviewing the preferential trade status of
the country.

Photo: Clean Clothes Campaign; Kristof Vadino via Maquila Solidarity Network



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