70 corporates join unions to launch Bangladesh Accord
Seventy companies worldwide (many of them worldwide companies) have, together with IndustriALL and UNI, just launched the implementation phase of the Accord on fire and building safety proposed by global unions and backed by unions in the Bangladesh ready-made garment (RMG) industry to address the causes of the Rana Plaza tragedy at the end of April. The development of the implementation plan, which was negotiated by corporates and unions, was supported by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
This is a major achievement for worker rights in Bangladesh and should lead to real improvements in the ground, especially if backed up by new, stronger labour laws as called for by the ITUC (please take the e-action to put pressure on the Bangladesh government.) It covers several well-known names in the UK, including Debenhams, who were one of the companies to sign up while the implementation negotiations were ongoing. It’s not too late for companies who haven’t yet signed up to get involved and do the right thing (although there are also corporate opponents of the Accord – see below.)
Announcing this crucial step forward, IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina said:
“Our mission is clear: to ensure the safety of all workers in the Bangladesh garment industry. The direct involvement of workers in the factories is key to the success of this programme.”
And, to demonstrate the commitment of corporates, Andy York, Ethical Trading Manager, N Brown Group (which includes New Now and High & Mighty), added:
“The signatories agree that this joint effort is a credible and effective programme with a genuine commitment from all parties to work together. This is the only way to bring about long-term, sustainable change to the garment industry in Bangladesh.”
Key highlights of the implementation plan include:
- initial inspections – to identify grave hazards and the need for urgent repairs – will be completed within 9 months;
- an Interim Procedure has been agreed to take effect when existing inspection processes or worker reports identify factories which require immediate remediation measures;
- a hiring process commenced for the Chief Safety Inspector and Executive Director positions; and
- a governance structure has been established through a Steering Committee with equal representation of signatory companies and unions and an Advisory Board with broad representation in Bangladesh.
But there’s a darker side to the story, as if the deaths of so many Bangladesh textile workers weren’t enough. We’re expecting two US corporates – Gap and Walmart – to launch an alternative, voluntary code on Monday, to excuse their non-adoption of the legally binding Accord, and to undermine it. They may have other allies in the US. Their code is non-binding, doesn’t include unions, and caps spending on safety measures. It is a repugnant attempt to play with Bangladeshi workers’ lives: they know voluntary measures failed miserably to prevent the Rana Plaza building collapse and the Tazreen Fashions fire last November. Their reluctance to include unions and their penny-pinching attempt to put a value on human life should come back to haunt them. Gap and Walmart wouldn’t have done this if they weren’t already feeling the heat from campaigners, and they will be targeted more as a result of their latest shabby manoeuvre.