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Protecting Progress

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By Mehmil Khalid Kunwar
Tue, 12, 21

The Bangladesh Accord is the first legally-binding agreement between workers, factory managers and apparel companies...

Protecting Progress

women labours 

The Bangladesh Accord is the first legally-binding agreement between workers, factory managers and apparel companies that requires brands and retailers to open their factories to fully independent inspections by qualified experts.

According to an estimate, Bangladesh is the second largest country in the world in the export of cotton garments. It employs approximately 4.4 million people with a large share of women and contributes more than 11 per cent to the country’s GDP.

For its safe and smooth operation, the factories need workers who can be fully protected through a legitimate system, comprising accountability mechanisms, factory inspections and insistence on observing precautions during work. Such a comprehensive network of governance in factories was absent before due to which the growth of the garment industry was plummeted significantly. The lack of legal systems resulted in the tragedy of the Rana Plaza Factory that killed 1,133 people and severely injured thousands more. The incident is considered as the worst disaster in the history of the garment industry as the factories responsible for making garments miserably failed to manage factory inspections and regular audits to ensure safe working. However, after realising the importance of maintaining overall protective working conditions in factories, the Bangladesh Accord emerged as a saviour for millions of workers who were previously bound to put their lives at stake to sustain livelihoods.

The Bangladesh Accord has served as an unparalleled development in the country’s apparel industry. Today, the Accord is regarded as a model to follow in European Commission Studies and lauded by the International Labour Organization (ILO). This credit is given due to the criteria meeting the requirements of “human rights due diligence.”

Protecting Progress

What is the Accord all about? The Bangladesh Accord provides a safe working environment to millions of workers in the factories of Bangladesh where workers no longer fear fires, building collapse, hazards or any other potential injury that can put their life in danger. The legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions provides a framework where the brands are held responsible for ensuring safety in factories. It is governed by a Steering Committee with equal representation of several apparel companies along with trade unions and ILO maintaining a neutral stand. In case of any safety violation in their supply chains, the signatory brands are required to compensate for the losses by providing financial resources. While quoting the success of the Accord, the Clean Clothes Campaign states that due to the accountability mechanisms affixed to the Accord provisions, two cases were brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration that produced remediation of multi-billion dollars for the factory. The Clean Clothes Campaign observed that the Accord has been successful in eliminating more than 90 per cent of safety hazards that were identified in time by Accord inspectors. This resulted in employing more than 2.5 million garment workers in various factories under safe conditions.

The Bangladesh Accord provides a system of checks and balances and a stern oversight on the performance of factories that has led to transparent working of associated supply chains. Due to the presence of the mechanism, a noticeable improvement has been seen in the methods of detection involved to identify safety violations. As a result, roughly 93 per cent of safety issues and more than 145,000 safety violations were detected at covered factories.

This data reported by a media site Fashion Revolution, also noted that over 1300 joint labour-management factory level safety committees have been established with an aim to monitor the safety measurements on a regular basis. The Accord also provides “grievance mechanism” that has assisted the workers to lodge their complaints effectively. Up till now, around 700 safety complaints from factory workers have been reported and resolved.

Prior to its existence, analysts suggest that there was no suitable route available to the workers to play their part in deliberations on issues linked to the factories. With its introduction, a participatory level of coordination in the governance of factories has been accorded to the workers who can now proactively involve themselves in the decision-making process. Despite its unprecedented level of success and clear opportunities given to the workers, there are certain dark areas that remain untouched and need committed efforts. For example, it has been observed that a great number of covered factories have not yet installed automated fire alarm system. Moreover, the safety precautions in factories also demand a new program to be introduced in order to prevent dreadful boiler explosions that can be life-threatening for the workers operating in such conditions.

According to experts, the progress in the Accord was more than what was being expected but still the loopholes need to be plugged for better results. The Accord is also about to expire but an extension has already been issued and further considerations are in the pipeline. Amid the corona virus pandemic and the economic challenges faced by the Bangladesh government, Dhaka needs to expressly put the Accord on track in order to increase the potential of its garment industry on the one hand and driving its economy on the other.

The writer is a polymer engineer with keen interest in politics and current affairs. She can be reached at mehmilkhalid@gmail.com

The original version of this article was published in SouthAsia Magazine.