Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (the Accord) was signed on 15 May 2013. It is a five-year independent, legally binding agreement between global brands and retailers and trade unions designed to build a safe and healthy Bangladeshi Ready Made Garment (RMG) Industry. The agreement was created in the immediate aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse that led to the death of more than 1100 people and injured more than 2000. In June 2013, an implementation plan was agreed leading to the incorporation of the Bangladesh Accord Foundation in the Netherlands in October 2013.
The agreement consists of six key components:
- A five-year legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions to ensure a safe working environment in the Bangladeshi RMG industry
- An independent inspection program supported by brands in which workers and trade unions are involved
- Public disclosure of all factories, inspection reports and corrective action plans (CAP)
- A commitment by signatory brands to ensure sufficient funds are available for remediation and to maintain sourcing relationships
- Democratically elected health and safety committees in all factories to identify and act on health and safety risks
- Worker empowerment through an extensive training program, complaints mechanism and right to refuse unsafe work.
Creation of the accord
The accord was sponsored and created by the IndustriALL Global Union and the UNI Global Union in alliance with leading NGOs, the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Workers Rights Consortium. It is an expanded version of an earlier 2-year accord that had been signed only by PVH and Tchibo.
Following the 2013 Savar building collapse on 24 April 2013 that resulted in over 1,100 deaths, there was wide global interest by both the consuming public and clothing retailers in establishing enforceable standards for fire and building safety in Bangladesh. The German government sponsored a meeting of retailers and NGOs at the beginning of May, and the meeting set a deadline of midnight of 16 May 2013 to sign up to the agreement. Numerous companies had signed up by the deadline, covering over 1,000 Bangladeshi garment factories.
In addition to schemes of building inspection and enforcement of fire and safety standards the accord requires that contracts by international retailers with Bangladesh manufacturers provide for compensation adequate to maintain safe buildings. Retailers agree to continue to support the Bangladesh textile industry despite possible higher costs. It is estimated that the total cost may be $1 billion, about $500,000 per factory. Close co-operation with the International Labour Organization and the government of Bangladesh is required. A steering committee which governs the accord is established as are dispute resolution procedures such as arbitration. The accord calls for development of an Implementation Plan over 45 days.
Since 29 October 2013, the Accord has been signed by over 200 apparel brands, retailers and importers from over 20 countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia; two global trade unions; and eight Bangladesh trade unions and four NGO witnesses. Some of the notable companies are listed below. For a complete list see the Bangladesh Accord website.
Rival American plan
Most North American retailers did not sign the accord. Companies like Gap Inc. and Walmart cited liability concerns. According to spokespersons for the retail industry, American courts, which allow class actions, contingent fees, and do not require losing plaintiffs to pay legal fees, might permit liability claims against retailers in the event of another disaster which might result in substantial enforceable judgments, in contrast to European courts which generally do not allow class actions, forbid contingent fees, and require losing plaintiffs to pay winning defendants' legal fees and costs. However, as John C. Coffee, professor of corporate law at Columbia Law School, pointed out, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. might apply thus foreclosing suits by Bangladesh workers under the Alien Tort Claims Act, but this seems unlikely. It is more likely that liability would be based on contract law.
On 10 July 2013, a group of 17 major North American retailers calling themselves the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety announced the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative. The Initiative drew criticism from labour groups who complained that it was less stringent than the Accord and lacked legally binding commitments to pay for improvements.
Developments since 2013
There were a significant number of accomplishments under the 2013 Accord, those of which included large scale hazard identification and remediation of these safety issues. Engineers inspected more than 2000 RMG factories where they identified more than 150,000 safety hazards. Additionally, companies committed to negotiating terms with their suppliers such that it was possible for the factories to maintain and uphold a safe workplace environment along with maintaining the safety remediation requirements. There was also a Safety Training Program initiative where 1.4 million workers in Accord-covered factories were educated and informed about proper workplace safety and evacuation drills, along with the rights that they had under the Accord. Anything that was not effectively handled at the factory level, such as individual worker complaints, were processed through Safety and Health Complaints Mechanism, which allowed them to remedy these concerns. By the end of the 2013 Accord, 200 worker complaints had been effectively handed through this program.
Since the expiration of the 2013 accord, there has been a new agreement signed in order to continue the progress that was achieved under the first accord. This new accord, known as the Transition Key Accord has been signed by various global unions and became effective on July 1st, 2018.
As of September 1st 2019, there has been a 90% initial remediation progress rate at Accord-covered factories. 254 factories have completed the initial remediation and there has been >90% initial remediation at 1,120 factories.
2018 Transition Accord
The 2018 Transition Accord was signed in order to fulfill the same purposes as the 2013 Accord as well as maintaining the progress previously made. It is also a legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions and some of the key features include brand commitment to ensure safety remediation is completed and financially feasible, independent safety inspections and remediation program. There will also be disclosure of inspection reports and corrective action plans. Other key features of the accord include: a Safety Committee and Training Program, Safety and Health Complaints Mechanism, protection of right to refuse unsafe work, along with the transition of the Accord functions to a larger national safety monitoring body.
The Accord is governed by a Steering Committee that consists of representatives from the signatory companies and trade unions along with a neutral chair from the International Labor Organization (ILO).
- Alke Boessgier; Alternate, UNI Global Union
- Amirul Haque Amin; Alternate, National Garment Workers Association
- Bernardo Cruza; Alternate, El Corte Ingles
- Bob Chant; Board, Loblaw,
- Christina Hajagos-Clausen; Alternate, IndustriALL Global Union
- Dan Rees; ILO
- Edward Davis Southall; Board, LC Waikiki
- Ineke Zeldenrust; Witness signatory, Clean Clothes Campaign
- Jenny Holdcroft; Board, IndustriALL Global Union
- Jochen Jutte-Overmeyer; Alternate, Otto Group
- Kamrul Anam; Alternate, IndustriAll Bangladesh Council and the Bangladesh Textile and Garments Workers League
- Mathias Bolton; Uni Global Union
- Roger Hubert; Alternate, Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M)
- Santiago Martinez Lage; Board, Inditex
- Scott Nova; Witness signatory, Workers Rights Consortium
One of the key features of the 2018 Accord is that it is has pledged to hand over its functions to the Bangladesh Remediation and Coordination Cell (RCC) which will be regulated and run by the national government. The 2018 Accord serves the purpose of supporting this organization until it has been developed enough to fully take over the Accord functions.
The transition has started gradually, with the RCC taking on some of the inspection and remediation duties at factories.
History of the Accord
Prior to the creation of the Accord in 2013, the Bangladesh garment industry had a number of fires and building collapses within the district. In February of 2010, a fire in the Garib & Garib Sweater Factory took the lives of 21, while another fire killed 29 more at the “That’s It Sportswear” factory in December of the same year. WIth deaths and buildings collapsing, NGOs in Bangladesh began attempting to work with the major companies involved to approach health and safety concerns within factories. One result of these meetings was the first draft of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), intended to prevent these tragedies. Companies such as Gap, PVH Corp., and Tchibo were encouraged to sign the MoU, with Gap becoming unwilling and continuing to employ the same methods of self-checking that had been used prior to the draft of the MoU. Both PVH Corp. and Tchibo signed MoUs with labor rights organizations in 2012 with similar terms to the Bangladesh Accord.
Later that same month, a fire at the Tazreen garment factory took the lives of 112 people, with the factory owners facing homicide charges. Following this devastating event, a new proposal was drawn up calling for: “Better regulation and stronger enforcement, Investment in safer facilities and infrastructure, Closure of unsafe premises, Engagement of workers and their representatives in promoting safe working practices with management and reporting of issues to competent authorities, Effective training and emergency preparedness of all staff, Assessment of buyers’ responsibilities and necessary improvement of practices.” Working with the Clean Clothes Campaign, Worker Rights Consortium, International Labor Rights Forum, and the Maquila Solidarity Network, the GIZ agency and IndustriALL (a global union federation) began forming a program that needed to meet the needs of trade union and NGO representatives. The main objectives of this program were a foundation for the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, specifically focusing on fire safety following the Rhana Plaza factory collapse. Based on the previously submitted proposals for safety, the Accord was issued on May 5th, 2013 and an official announcement of intention to sign was given by H&M on May 13th, 2013. H&M signing of the Accord was a key step in encouraging other companies to declare their intent to sign as well.
- "Major Retailers Join Bangladesh Safety Plan". The New York Times. 13 May 2013.
- "We made it! – Global Breakthrough as Retail Brands sign up to Bangladesh Factory Safety Deal 16.05.2013 The world's leading retail labels commit to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh before the midnight deadline. The Accord now covers more than 1000 Bangladeshi garment factories. Implementation starts now!". IndustriALL Global Union. 16 May 2013. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
- Steven Greenhouse (22 May 2013). "U.S. Retailers See Big Risk in Safety Plan for Factories in Bangladesh". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
- "Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh" May 13, 2013 accessed 23 May 2013, sections 22 and 23 of the accord: "...participating brands and retailers will negotiate commercial terms with their suppliers which ensure that it is financially feasible for the factories to maintain safe workplaces and comply with upgrade and remediation requirements instituted by the Safety Inspector."
- "Global brands pull together on Bangladesh safety deal". IndustriALL press release. 23 May 2013.
- "Who has signed the Bangladesh safety accord – update". Just Style. 27 July 2015.
- "Signatories". Bangladesh Accord website. 26 August 2015.
- Steven Greenhouse & Stephanie Clifford (10 July 2013). "U.S. Retailers Offer Plan for Safety at Factories". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
- "The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety". The Bangladesh Accord. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- "The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety". The Bangladesh Accord. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- "History Bangladesh Safety Accord". Clean Clothes Campaign. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- "Bangladesh Factory Owners Surrender In 2012 Fire That Killed 112". NPR.org. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- Clifford, Stephanie; Steven Greenhouse (2 September 2013). "Fast and Flawed Inspections of Factories Abroad". The New York Times. p. A1 ff.