(C) ILO Better Work. Textile workers in Bangladesh will now benefit from a further 3 years of support from the Accord
Unions and brands strike an Accord to continue support for Bangladesh’s workers
Global unions and textiles brands have announced a new version of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety to continue the original Accord’s work when its remit ends next year.
Speaking to delegates to the OECD’s Responsible Business Conduct Forum, IndustriALL and UNIGlobal, represented by Jenny Holdcroft and Christy Hoffman, flanked by brands C&A and LC Waikiki, announced the new deal to enthusiastic applause.
The new Accord, which at its launch already had the support of 23 brands, with its founders expecting most of the original signatories to follow suit, will continue the good work of its predecessor, potentially allowing thousands more factories to be made safe, and raising standards further for those already covered.
The new set up will also expand the remit, with companies’ agreement, into separate but related sectors that support the textiles industry but are not considered part of it, meaning safer workplaces for thousands more workers.
The original Accord, set up in the wake of the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza building four years ago that killed more than 1,100 people, and the earlier Tazreen fire that killed 117, has inspected 1,800 factories and carried out more than 7,000 follow up inspections. Most of the main brands sourcing from Bangladesh are members, including a range of UK companies.
With the Accord’s remit expiring next year, the question was whether the government of Bangladesh was in a position to take over its proper role enforcing its international obligations on workplace human rights, such as effective labour inspection.
The government’s behaviour recently, particularly its reaction to strikes in Ashulia last December, which was followed by a nationwide crackdown on union leaders, and anti-union violence in Chittagong last month, have done nothing to improve confidence that Bangladesh is ready to go it alone.
The representatives of the Accord stressed they still see the Accord as a temporary solution leading to a sustainable future system involving government, employers and unions, but that they feared leaving a vacuum if they allowed the current arrangement to expire without a second phase.
Although the new Accord’s remit will be broadly similar to the original, and it will continue to focus on inspection and remediation of factories, there have been some changes of emphasis, with widespread training of entire workforces continuing to grow as a priority. The global unions were keen to point out that ensuring respect for Freedom of Association is the best way of ensuring that workers can use that training to engage with their employers and contribute to their own safety at work.
The agreement represents a stunning achievement for the global unions and their partners. Aleix Gonzalez from C&A, a member of the Accord’s steering committee, admitted that a year ago a new Accord seemed unlikely. He reported one fellow brand saying “I would not have bet on this,” but stressed that C&A and the other brands had learned a lot about the effectiveness of collective action through their work on the Accord.
The new Accord will run from May 2018 for three years, with an option of an extra year if needed. For Bangladesh’s workers, facing a continuing hostile relationship with government and with certain employers, the continued support of global unions and brands comes at an important time. With workplace representation crucial to the Accord’s effectiveness, it gives unions in Bangladesh the tools to address the challenges they face and not only stop another Rana Plaza – where powerless workers were forced into a building they knew was unsafe – but continue to build their role in the country’s workplaces and break down the culture of antagonism towards organised labour that still exists.