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Retailers and unions agree on new, expanded Bangladesh Accord

By Huw Hughes

25 Aug 2021

Business

Image: Clean Clothes Campaign

A legally binding pact set up in 2013 to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi garment factory workers has been extended by two years.

A representation of international textile retailers and the global trade union signatories to the former Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh announced Wednesday they have agreed to continue legally binding commitments to workplace safety in Bangladesh and have pledged to expand the program to other countries.

The new agreement, called the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, takes effect on September 1, one day after the current Bangladesh Accord is set to expire.

The current accord is a legally binding pact signed by more than 200 fashion companies that aims to improve factory safety for workers following the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse which resulted in the deaths of over 1,100 garment factory workers.

The accord was originally set to expire in May, by which time it would be superseded by a new body, backed by the Bangladesh government, called the Readymade Sustainability Council (RSC), but was pushed back by three months as trade unions and NGOs warned that the RSC was not ready to take over.

They raised concerns that RSC would not implement the same legally binding obligations for individual brands that were present in the Bangladesh Accord.

Like its predecessor agreement, the new International Accord is a legally binding agreement between companies and trade unions that aims to make ready-made garments (RMG) and textile factories safe.

Key features of the International Accord

The renewed agreement advances fundamental elements of the original accord, including respect for freedom of association; independent administration and implementation; a high level of transparency; provisions to ensure remediation is financially feasible; Safety Committee training and a worker awareness program; and an independent complaints mechanism.

Key new features of the International Accord include a commitment to focus on the health and safety program in Bangladesh, and on building a credible industry-wide compliance and accountability mechanism; a commitment to expand the work of the International Accord based on feasibility studies; an option to expand the scope of the agreement to address human rights due diligence; and an optional streamlined arbitration process to enforce the accord’s terms.

Nigel Oddy, the CEO of New Look, one of the first retailers to sign the new accord, said: “Ensuring our suppliers treat their workforce fairly and maintain high standards of safety is of utmost importance to us.

“Having worked closely with multiple stakeholders to reach this agreement, we are pleased to be signing the newly agreed International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Sector, which puts the safety of workers at its centre.”

The full first wave of brands and retailers to have signed the agreement will be announced on September 1.