Trade union leaders are not pleased with the announcement that the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety is supposed to leave the country in less than a year. The Bangladesh Accord shall be replaced in 281 days by another entity called RMC Sustainability Council (RSC), to be governed by a board comprising representatives of the Bangladesh Garment Employers Association (BGMEA), fashion brands and national trade unions.
According to the union leaders, the new arrangement will give too much power to factory owners. “The deal is sure to compromise the safety and security of garment workers given there will be no independent decision-making by the Accord”, Badul Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, is quoted by Reuters as saying. “This was framed without any discussion with labor unions”.
The Bangladesh Accord was established in 2013 by 200 international fashion brands following the Rana Plaza building collapse, when 1100 garment factory workers lost their lives. The independent organization conducts frequent safety inspections in the garment factories of Bangladesh. Last year, the Bangladesh government ordered the organization to cease its operations by November 30, claiming that its national regulatory body, the Remediation Coordination Cell, is fully capable of taking over their work. The Accord disagreed and a long legal battle ensued, culminating in the transition deal announced yesterday.
The Clean Clothes Campaign, one of the authors of a report published in April revealing that the government-backed safety inspection agencies are not ready to assume responsibility for the 1,688 factories inspected by the Accord, also expressed concerns about the transition deals. “CCC is studying the agreement reached with the BGMEA and trying to get more clarity on all implications. As a first response we can say we have concerns around some of the provisions relating to the role of the BGMEA unit that if foreseen to be operating from the Accord office during the one year transition period foreseen now”, said Christie Miedema, a spokesperson for the organization, in an email to FashionUnited. “We are worried that a visible presence of the BGMEA inside the Accord office may have a negative impact on the complaints mechanism, one of the strongest and most important features of the Accord”.
”Regarding the new institution that is being announced there is at present no clarity on the decision-making structure, the finance mechanism, or the enforcement mechanism. For us as witness signatories it is of utmost importance that this institution will operate on the same principles and criteria that make the Accord credible and successful in keeping workers safe”, added Miedema.
“This means a meticulous and transparent inspection system, which operates independently from any company influence; worker training and a complaint mechanism that allows workers to stand up for their own safety and defend their interests against the interests of the management without having to fear retaliation; robust and reliable enforcement mechanisms where unions have the ability to enforce the agreement through binding arbitration; a strong and independent Accord leadership in which the chief Inspector maintains full and independent discretion to make decisions on corrective actions and schedule (follow up) inspections where needed; and civil society participation where watchdog organizations can act as witnesses guarding the transparency, swiftness and independence of its operations”.