The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which was due to expire next year, has been extended until 2021.
The announcement, made at the opening session of the OECD Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct in Paris on Thursday, puts an end to the speculation over the last few months whether the global brands and retailers that make up the Accord would continue their factory safety mandate in Bangladesh after their five-year term ends in May 2018.
More than 200 brands and retailers have signed the current legally binding agreement to improve fire and building safety in apparel factories in Bangladesh. The Accord — which is made up of mostly European brands and retailers such as H&M, Adidas, C&A, Bestseller, Marks & Spencer and Tesco — covers more than 2.5 million workers in 1,700 garment factories. It was formed less than three weeks after the collapse of the eight story Rana Plaza, in which more than 1,130 workers were killed and 2,500 injured.
While the new agreement will continue the work of the previous one, it adds new worker protections and ensures that many more factories will be inspected and renovated, as signatory brands add suppliers.
Christy Hoffman, deputy general secretary of UNI Global Union, told WWD that, while the extension was signed on Wednesday, it has been “under discussion for the best part of a year.”
The new agreement so far has commitments from Kmart Australia, Target Australia, Primark, H&M, Inditex (Zara), C&A, Otto, KiK, Aldi South, Aldi North, Lidl, Tchibo, LC Waikiki and Helly Hansen.
Hoffman explained the new agreement would “put greater emphasis on the rights of workers to organize and join a union, recognizing worker empowerment is fundamental to assuring workplace safety.”
“It includes enhanced protections for workers whose factories are closed or relocated due to the implementation of the agreement. It also presents the possibility to expand the Accord to sectors other than the ready-made garment industry,” she said.
More than 1,000 Bangladeshi garment factories supplying signatory brands will be covered under the new Accord, even with fewer signatories. Hoffman pointed out that this would not be “some scaled-back operation. We may not have 217 signatories this time around, but there will be a very sizable number — there’s a lot of enthusiasm and we’ll get very close to the current number of factories,” she said.
Bangladesh is the second-largest garment producer in the world, after China, with 3,500 factories.
As before, global trade unions, IndustriALL and UNI are signatories to the new Accord, while four non-governmental organizations including the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Worker Rights Consortium will be witness signatories.
Over the last four years, after the 1,700 factories were inspected, more than 118,500 violations were found in terms of the Accord’s fire, electrical, and structural safety standards. Accord inspectors identified 32 factory buildings with extreme structural flaws that created the risk of a Rana Plaza-like catastrophic failure, and 79 percent remediation has already been completed. Much of this has been in terms of fixing electrical wiring, installation of fire doors, sprinklers and other areas.
Christy Hoffman of UNI Global Union reiterated that the Accord would continue in a similar capacity as it has so far, adding that some adjustments have been made in the extended agreement to take account of things that didn’t work under the current agreement.
Asked about the monetary requirements under the new Accord, Hoffman said that a fee structure had not been agreed upon yet. “The expectation is that for most brands it will be more or less the same, but the fee structure could change somewhat in terms of the Accord. We don’t foresee it will be a lot less for the next few years because we will be doing a lot of other work in terms of training and so on. But we have not yet resolved the fee structure and that’s something for the brands to work on,” she said.
Also unresolved is how the Bangladesh government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Exporters Association will respond.