Leading fashion brands are redoubling their commitments to responsible global supply chains by entering into a new Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh with global trade unions.
IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union together with brand representatives from C&A and LC Waikiki announced the new agreement at OECD Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct in Paris on Thursday.
The agreement has so far been signed by Kmart Australia, Target Australia, Primark, H&M, Inditex (Zara), C&A, Otto, KiK, Aldi South, Aldi North, Lidl, Tchibo, LC Waikiki, Helly Hansen, Loblaw and PVH. Esprit, Hüren, Bestseller, Wibra, Schmidt Group, N Brown Group, Specialty Fashion Group Australia and Carrefour have also committed to signing the deal.
It means that over a thousand Bangladeshi garment factories supplying signatory brands will already be covered under the new Accord. This number will grow as more brands sign.
This three-year agreement builds on the achievements of the first Bangladesh Accord signed in May 2013 following the Rana Plaza collapse. It continues the first Accord's groundbreaking legally binding framework and commitment to transparency.
It also adds new worker protections and ensures that many more factories will be inspected and renovated as signatory brands add suppliers. The Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013 claimed the lives of over 1,100 workers and injured 2,500 more. Six weeks later, unions, non-governmental organisations and brands announced the first Bangladesh Accord. Currently, the Accord covers over 2.5 million workers.
The new Accord goes into effect after the 2013 accord expires in May 2018. IndustriALL General Secretary, Valter Sanches, said Brands' renewed commitment to factory safety in Bangladesh is a vote of confidence in the Accord."The Accord is, at present, the only credible option for health and safety in Bangladesh garment factories. It shows that industrial relations can be used to save lives and improve global supply chains."
The new agreement extends independent, expert building safety inspections for three more years for all covered factories, ensuring that safety improvements achieved under the first Accord will be maintained and that new problems in any factory will be addressed.
Under the first Accord, engineers carried out fire, electrical and structural safety inspections at over 1,800 factories, identifying 118,500 hazards. Seventy-nine percent of workplace dangers identified in the Accord's original round of inspections have been remedied.
Christy Hoffman, Deputy General Secretary of UNI Global Union, said over the past four years, unions and worker safety organisations have worked together with global brands within the Accord to find a solution to the seemingly intractable problem of dangerous factories in Bangladesh. "Many said change was not possible. We've proven them wrong. Our aim is to create a global economy which respects the lives and dignity of all workers and the Accord is a big step along that path.
The 2018 Accord will continue the forward motion," he said. Since the Rana Plaza tragedy, the Bangladeshi garment industry has grown-US$6.6 billion in annual revenue-and so has the Accord's importance.
The new agreement puts greater emphasis on the right of workers to organise and join a union, recognising worker empowerment is fundamental to assuring workplace safety. It includes enhanced protections for workers whose factories are closed or relocated due to the implementation of the agreement. It also presents the possibility to expand the Accord to sectors other than the readymade garment industry.
Amirul Amin from IndustriALL Bangladeshi affiliate, National Garment Workers Federation, said: "I am glad that we have reached agreement to extend the Accord. The IndustriALL Bangladesh Council of trade unions has zero tolerance of unsafe workplaces that threaten workers' lives."