There is an increasing level of urgency for the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to complete its scheduled 1,500 factory inspections by the September deadline.
“We are on track to complete all the inspections in another three weeks,” Rob Wayss, executive director of the Bangladesh operations, told WWD.
The Accord is a binding agreement between 180 brands and retailers including H&M, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, Primark and C&A and is led by IndustriAll Global Union and UNI Global Union and has been working toward ensuring safer working conditions for workers in the garment sector in Bangladesh.
Wayss said the implementation of the Accord was going “very well” as he talked about the realities of implementing the agreement on the ground in Bangladesh, with intense negotiations between different stakeholders, including the Bangladesh government, factory owners, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the International Labour Organization and the workers themselves.
“We have now completed almost 1,100 inspections and uploaded 250-plus reports on our Web site and final corrective plans. More than 500 factories have received all three reports and have either completed their corrective action plans or in the process of completing them,” he said.
Out of the 1,100 factories inspected, 20 were submitted to the government review panel. Four of these are currently closed but the workers have been relocated to another facility that the factory owner has or the factory owner recently bought or recently built. In one case, the workers continue to be employed and continue to be paid by the employer but are not working.
They will resume their duties in another facility close to the one that was inspected by early October.
“Of course that’s a challenge to make sure that the remediation goes forward and that the financing for the remediation is identified and that the workers are paid their wages each month and that their employment is maintained,” said Wayss. “We’re facing some challenges in a couple of those cases, but we fully expect that any inconsistencies with the requirement of the accord will be rectified.”
There have been other difficulties as well.
For example, after some critical findings on the safety and occupancy of Newtech Apparels Ltd., in Chittagong, in June and an evacuation order being issued by the Review panel, engineers from the Accord found that workers were continuing to work in the building in August, despite the government notification.
“And you know it worked. Newtech has now removed all those workers from that building,” said Wayss. “They’ve been transferred to another facility that the factory owner owns and we will make sure that they don’t go back into the building unless and until it is fixed and verified and safe for people to be in there. But it’s only been a couple of cases where that’s happened but we forcefully enforce the Accord in that regard and work closely with the government on this to make sure that they meet the mandate on this.
“Again, the purpose of all these initiatives is to avoid foreseeable accidents and prevent fire situations and prevent building collapses and that’s what we should be doing,” he added.
“We continue to do outreach with the unions that we work with and continue to train their officers and their outreach people and their education people and their active members. And we are focusing heavily now on the role of the workers in the monitoring of the corrective actions. We have developed some resource materials for our industriALL colleagues in their meetings with workers.,” said Wayss as he described the focus on team building — with 40 employees and growing.
“We will soon open an office in Chittagong and then one in Gazipur,” he said.
There have been reports about the rivalry and disagreements between the Accord and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which includes 26 brands and retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc., VF Corp. and Target Corp. “We were asked to do something and we are doing it while recognizing the constituency on the ground and recognizing the agreements of the accord itself and now look forward in executing that policy decision and will work constructively with the various parties to see that it works,” said Wayss. “We only expect that we will receive cooperation from the owners or the Alliance or the government. Again some may make some public statements or mischaracterize this but for us it is just important to forge ahead and do the work and engage with people on a day-to-day basis so that it gets done.”