Although the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is set to expire on May 31, no brand has yet agreed to re-sign the agreement.
Speakers from Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), IndustriALL and Worker Rights Consortium stated this at a press briefing, titled "Protect Progress: The Bangladesh Accord and Garment Worker Safety Under Threat", organised virtually yesterday, slamming the brands for not renewing the accord.
The current agreement -- which has legally prohibited brands from sourcing from unsafe RMG factories -- will expire in five weeks, notified the speakers. Following the expiration, unless brands extend their commitment, there will be no such legally-binding agreement, they said.
"Instead, brands are proposing watered-down versions of the programme that carry a very real risk that workplace safety in Bangladesh would backslide to the pre-Rana Plaza levels," said Clean Clothes Campaign.
The Accord was signed weeks after the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 as a binding safety programme, and over 200 brands gave their commitments to the agreement.
As per CCC, the body worked with 1,600 factories to make them structurally safe and compliant with international standards, and the signatory brands and retailers could only source from those factories. Suppliers also had to participate in the inspection and remediation programmes and ensure that remediation at their suppliers was financially feasible, it said.
On June 1, 2020, the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) took over the Accord in Bangladesh. The RSC will continue with factory inspections, remediation monitoring, and workplace programmes.
"The RSC is a tripartite organisation in Bangladesh, but it does not have the same legal accountability or the same mechanisms to hold brands accountable. We need to have a global agreement between the brands and the unions,'' said Christina Hajagos-Clausen, garment director at IndustriALL Global Union.
"The Accord which has been extremely successful is currently threatened by the brand's refusal to sign the agreement," said Alke Boessinger, deputy general secretary of UNI Global Union.
Speakers said that a year of being hard-hit by the pandemic was contributing to the refusal of the brands to continue with the Accord.
But there is no alternative to legislation, if companies are to be held accountable. "Or you need to have legally binding agreements. Voluntary commitments have always failed," said Christina.
"Negotiations are happening late because the brands requested so because of the pandemic and the unions agreed to it. We have been contacting brands to know about their position on key features. So far only ASOS has given a positive response," said Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign.
"The brands need to sign the agreement with the Global Union and make sure that the workers' safety is ensured. Nobody will listen to the Readymade Sustainability Council [RSC]. We are asking all the brands to sign the old agreement," said Kalpona Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation and founder of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity.
"The call is not just for the current signatories, but also for all other brands, including those who were signatories of Alliance," said Christina.
"The Accord has saved lives. We have only had about 10-12 lives lost and that too to things like boiler explosions. Boiler safety was included much later into the Accord," she added.
There's still over 900 factories that do not have a guaranteed safe exit route," said Ineke.
"There are five weeks to go until the Accord agreement runs out, but the first Accord came about in only three. Brands can make it happen if they want to," said Kalpona.
Nasir Mansoor, president of the National Trade Union Federation in Pakistan, also spoke at the event.