The Bangladesh Accord (Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh) was set up following the Rana Plaza factory building collapse in 2013, to create safer working environments without fear of fires, building collapses or accidents. Legally-binding, the agreement between brands and trade unions covers Ready-Made-Garment (RMG) factories across Bangladesh. So far, the Accord has:
- Overseen 35,222 factory inspections
- Monitored 214 factory remediations
- Trained 998 safety committees
- Resolved 319 safety complaints
Photo credit: the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh
Rana Plaza: the trigger for action
When the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed on 24th April 2013, at least 1,132 people were killed and 2,500 injured amongst the five garment factories housed there. The incident hit the retail industry hard and gained international response, with hundreds of supermarkets, fashion brands, suppliers and trade unions signing the Bangladesh Accord and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.
Whilst the Rana Plaza building collapse has been described as one of the “worst industrial accidents on record” by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), it is far from the only incident of its kind. Five months earlier, 112 workers died after being trapped inside the burning Tazreen Fashions factory just a few miles away, on the outskirts of Dhaka. In February 2018, a fire in the Chawkbazar trading district in Dhaka, killed at least 70 people. Illegally stored and highly combustible chemicals were being stored in the buildings.
What now for the Bangladesh Accord?
The Accord was intended as a five-year agreement which came to an end in 2018 but an extension was granted to allow the remaining safety fixes to be completed. Currently, the Accord is challenging a High Court Directive asking it to cease all activities in November of last year, with a hearing adjourned to April 7th 2019. The fear is that national bodies do not yet have the capacity or resources to take on the Accord’s vital work.
The only reason why fire accidents in the garment industry [have] decreased is because Accord has constantly monitored the factories since 2013. […] If there’s a strong team to monitor the housing industry, a lot of fire accidents can be controlled.
Collaboration is essential to solving the ethical problems facing the fashion industry. Whilst it has been suggested that one solution is to abandon trade with Bangladesh, this could lead to mass unemployment and starvation, with brands moving their manufacturing to other sourcing countries with the same struggles. Cambodia’s mass faintings and Myanmar’s child labour highlight how widespread the issue of labour exploitation and unethical working conditions can be.
Trade is better than aid, and fair trade is better than unfair trade.
Primarily, responsibility for working conditions lies with the governments of producing countries. Set standards can vary widely and legal compliance within the producing country may not equate to legal compliance within the country where the produced garments are being sold or the brand is based. Additionally, international standards informally require brands to take responsibility for the rights and working conditions within supplier factories; for example, UK’s Modern Slavery Act holds businesses responsible for slavery and exploitation within their supply chain.
Initiatives such as the Bangladesh Accord are the first step towards a collaborative approach. By working together and sharing information, it’s easier to not only identify but to address problems. In order to effectively share information, all parties require transparency and data over what is occurring both in their own supply chains and in the industry as a whole. Collaboration between businesses, the public, NGOs and the government will lead to greater transparency across all industries and sectors.
Sharing knowledge is crucial when it comes to tackling unethical supplier behaviour, and the Accord certainly seems to be aiming to do so.If the Bangladesh Accord fails to get renewed, are brands and local authorities read to go it alone? Or could we see another disaster like the Rana Plaza collapse?