24 April 2013: An eight-storey factory building complex at Rana Plaza in the industrial outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapses killing at least 1,138 garment workers and injuring over 2,500 more. Exact numbers are still sketchy, with hundreds of bodies remaining unidentified or missing. The world’s worst industrial accident in 30 years came just five months after the Tazreen factory fire in Dhaka, where more than 120 workers lost their lives. The Rana Plaza building housed five clothing factories – Ether Tex, New Wave Bottoms, New Wave Style, Phantom Apparels and Phantom Tex – and a mall. The collapse was caused by the illegal addition of two floors on an already sub-standard building.
1-4 May 2013: A high-Level International Labor Organisation (ILO) mission visits Bangladesh to identify key areas for action. A joint statement is signed by tripartite partners (government, workers, employers) identifying key areas for action, such as the assessment of the structural integrity of ready-made garment factory buildings; strengthening labour inspection; worker and management training and awareness of occupational safety and health and workers’ rights; rehabilitation and skills training of disabled workers; and the possible establishment of a Better Work programme.
13 May 2013: The first of two major remedial plans was launched. The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety is backed by global unions and mostly-European companies, with founder members including Benetton, C&A, Carrefour, Debenhams, Esprit, H&M, Inditex, Marks & Spencer, Otto Group, Primark, Puma, PVH and Tesco. The full list of signatories now extends to more than 150 companies, and can be seen here. The Accord covers 1,639 supplier factories.
The legally-binding five-year Accord commits to independent safety inspections with public reports on all Bangladeshi suppliers used by the signatory companies, mandatory repairs and renovations, the obligation by brands to underwrite the costs of safety upgrades, and repercussions for suppliers that refuse to improve conditions including the termination of business. It also binds signatories to maintain sourcing volumes in Bangladesh for two years.
27 June 2013: The US decides to suspend the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits to Bangladesh – the system under which it can export certain goods to the US duty-free. While this has little impact on apparel – the vast majority of products do not enjoy GSP relief – it sends a powerful signal to the Bangladeshi government and business leaders. Renewal is due to be reconsidered again in May 2014.
8 July 2013: The EU, Bangladesh Government and ILO issue the Global Sustainability Compact to promote improved labour standards, the structural integrity of buildings and occupational safety and health, and responsible business conduct in the RMG and knitwear industry in Bangladesh. The Compact assigns an important coordination and monitoring role to the ILO.
10 July 2013: Certain elements of the Accord presented a major stumbling block to North American firms, including the way in which disputes are resolved, which many US companies feared would subject them to potentially unlimited legal liability and litigation. As a result, a group of 26 mostly North American brands and retailers, including Wal-Mart, Gap, JC Penney and VF Corp have lent their support to the essentially voluntary Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. The Alliance covers 770 supplier factories. A comparison of the Alliance and Accord can be seen here.
15 July 2013: Amendments are made to the Bangladesh Labour Act, including provisions on workplace rights, safety and health. Progress is also seen on the registration of new unions following the labour law reforms, with over 140 new unions registered to date – compared to just two in the preceding three years.
25 July 2013: The Accord and Alliance between them cover 2,409 of the 3,498 Bangladesh factories making garments for export, while it is also estimated that there are another 1,500 factories and facilities on top of this. To address the shortfall, the Government of Bangladesh and representatives from local employers’ and workers’ organisations sign an integrated National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity in the garment Sector of Bangladesh (NTPA), coordinated by the International Labor Organization (ILO).
22 October 2013: The ILO launches a US$24m, three-and-a-half year programme on improving working conditions in the ready-made garment sector. The programme is designed to support the National Tripartite Plan of Action. A new Better Work programme is also launched in Bangladesh.
7 November 2013: The ILO brings together technical experts (structural engineers, fire safety experts) from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) on behalf of the NTC, the Accord, and the Alliance. The experts agree on harmonised standards for structural and fire safety assessments.
22 November 2013: Led by engineers from BUET, assessments of the structural integrity and fire safety of RMG factory buildings officially commence.
1 December 2013: A new minimum wage for garment workers comes into effect, rising by 77% to $68 (BDT5,300) per month. The basic salary is also set to rise by 5% each year.
15 January 2014: The Government of Bangladesh upgrades the chief inspector of factories and establishments office to a department, sanctioning 679 new staff positions, including 392 new inspectors.
17 January: The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh finalises the fire, electrical, and building inspection standards against which all its member supplier factories will be assessed.
20 February 2014: Accord factory inspections get underway, with 38 teams of fire, electrical and structural engineers due to conduct 250 inspections a month until September.
12 March 2014: Alliance factory inspections get underway. By 22 April, inspections have been completed on more than half of them, and are due to be finished by July.
18 March 2014: The Rana Plaza Coordination Committee adopts the Rana Plaza Arrangement to provide compensation to all injured workers, dependents of the dead and missing, and non-injured workers present in the complex when it collapsed.
23 April 2014: The Rana Plaza Coordination Committee agrees to award BDT50,000 (US$650) each to victims of the building collapse as advance compensation payments. The fund has so far received about US$15m of the estimated $40m needed to compensate all victims.
(Source: Barrie 2014 link)
As garment factories have pushed into new markets in search of ever-cheaper labour, the apparel industry has become perhaps the ultimate symbol of two decades of globalization…the manufacturing of clothing now ties together Western consumers and distant Asian workers in a cycle driven by trends and budgets that change with the seasons. No product better represents how our economy has been altered than the global tee, the fashion basic that’s sold for miraculously cheap prices, sometimes just $5. As The Globe and Mail found during more than two months tracking such T-shirts – from the cotton fields of China to the gleaming offices of Hong Kong and Singapore , to factories in Cambodia and Bangladesh and back to Canadian stores – supply chains are increasingly fragmented. Production leapfrogs from city to city. Middlemen outsource to other middlemen. Governments make bold claims but few checks on safety. And the consumer knows little about the long and tortuous path journey of that T-shirt to the store – only that it has become far more affordable than it ever used to be. (Source: Mackinnon, M. and Strauss, M. 2013 link)
…A profound change is possible only with a strong coalition between trade unions, international brands and retailers, Bangladeshi authorities and employers, and with worker involvement in the workplace with guaranteed freedom of association. (Source: IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina, link)
Since 2005, over 1,800 workers have been killed in preventable factory fires and building collapses in the Bangladesh garment industry. (Source: International labour rights forum, 2008-2012 link)
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is a five-year legally binding agreement between international labor organizations, non-governmental organizations, and retailers engaged in the textile industry to maintain minimum safety standards in the Bangladesh textile industry. The undersigned parties are committed to the goal of a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi Ready-Made Garment (“RMG”) industry in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures. The accord was signed in May 2013. (Source: Wikipedia, link)
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety requires that companies mandate and pay for renovation and repairs to ensure factories in Bangladesh are made safe. The five-year pact is a legally enforceable contract between companies and unions that will use binding arbitration to resolve disputes.(Source: Women’s Wear Daily, 2013)
The agreement will see independent safety inspections with public reports on all Bangladeshi suppliers used by the signatory companies, mandatory repairs and renovations, the obligation by brands to underwrite the costs of safety upgrades, and repercussions for suppliers that refuse to improve conditions including the termination of business.(Source: Katie Smith link)
What they have signed up to…agrees to independent safety inspections with public reports on all Bangladeshi suppliers used by the signatory companies, mandatory repairs and renovations, the obligation by brands and retailers to underwrite the costs of safety upgrades – including ensuring they pay suppliers enough to maintain safe workplaces – and repercussions for suppliers that refuse to improve conditions including the termination of business. There will also be health and safety training for workers and management personnel, health and safety committees, and the right of workers to file complaints and to refuse unsafe work. And an active role is seen for both workers and trade unions. Signatory brands will contribute a maximum $500,000 per year to pay for the steering committee, safety inspector and training coordinator. Payments will depend on each company’s annual garment production in Bangladesh. (Source: Marian, P. 2013 link)
The Accord commits the companies to a fire and building safety programme in Bangladesh…building on an earlier National Action Plan on Fire Safety. And it commits them to fund an independent safety inspectorate that will involve workers and their unions and covers re-mediation and fire safety training throughout the supply chain. A steering committee chaired by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and with equal representation from trade unions and companies, will oversee the new safety inspectorate. The Accord provides for union involvement at all levels including the factory floor, with factory-level health and safety committees and worker representation (where unions are present). And it provides for employment security and pay if factories have to be closed down to carry out the safety improvements identified by inspectors as being necessary. (Source: Labour Research August 2013)
Key highlights of the implementation plan include:
· Initial inspections to identify grave hazards and the need for urgent repairs. This will be completed within 9 months
· An Interim Procedure to take effect when existing inspection processes or worker reports identify factories which require immediate remediation measures.
· Hiring process commenced for the Chief Safety Inspector and Executive Director positions.
· Governance structure established through a Steering Committee with equal representation of signatory companies and unions and an Advisory Board with broad representation in Bangladesh.” (Source: IndustriALL-union, 2013 link)
Jyrki Raina, General Secretary IndustriALL:“Our mission is clear: to ensure the safety of all workers in the Bangladesh garment industry. The direct involvement of workers in the factories is key to the success of this programme.” (Source: Anon 2013a link)
…it’s a major step forward for Bangladesh. (Source: Thomas, K. 2013 link)
IndustriALL General Secretary JyrkiRaina stated: This historic, legally binding Accord will effect tangible change on the ground and help make the Bangladeshi garment industry safe and sustainable. Voluntary initiatives have proved insufficient, as 1,800 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in factory fires and building collapses during the past seven years.
UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings commented: Now the real work starts. The terms of reference and the rules of the Accord are set in place, we can now identify the best people and put together the team in Bangladesh who will be charged with carrying out this vital work. These are exciting moments. The world is watching. (Source: Industriall Union 2013 link)
Peter McAllister (ETI director) said; “The accord is an important milestone, and shows just how seriously the international community takes this issue. The real test comes at implementation stage, and how all parties collaborate in order to raise workplace standards.
In the spirit of the accord, Bangladesh’s garment workers must play an integral role, if we are to see long-lasting improvements in health and safety practices across the sector. These workers must have their right to a safe workplace protected, and upheld. (Source: Ethical Trade 2013 link)
The accord is obviously an essential first step in the right direction, and firms should be commended for pulling together with a solid effort to bring about change. But it is also unlikely to be the last step to achieving safe factories, since there will always be those who, for whatever reasons, slip the net. The challenge is to make sure the momentum continues and that the agreement continues to evolve. It is also worth remembering that while a lot of time has been spent recently talking about the disasters, there are also a lot of very reputable organisations operating in Bangladesh in an ethical way. It’s now time for the others to catch up. (Source: Marian, P. 2013 link)
It took the worst garment factory accident in modern history to teach consumers the real price of an $8 T-shirt. (Source: Talaga, T. 2014 link)
The Accord today reached 175 signatories! Welcome to new members, committed to safety in RMG workplaces in Bangladesh (BangladeshAccord May 2014 @bangaccord link)
Inspection update Accord: More than 1900 fire, electrical and structural inspections performed at over 650 factories (BangladeshAccord June 2014 @bangaccord link)