Garment makers oppose Accord's time extension
Local garment manufacturers have opposed the time extension of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety by three more years, saying factory remediation work will be completed within the current tenure.
“We don't accept the new agreement. It is a unilateral decision by the Accord,” said Siddiqur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
“We have not been included in the board of the Accord and the signatories did not even show the draft copy of the new agreement,” Rahman said.
“We don't need the Accord anymore,” said Atiqul Islam, a former president of BGMEA.
Trade unions and leading apparel brands extended the tenure of the Accord for three more years at the OECD Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct in Paris June 30.
But local factory owners say proper implementation of the amended labour law would protect the workers' rights and the local union leaders would play a vital role in formation of trade unions at factory level and in ensuring freedom of association.
They called for strengthening of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) and the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) for fortifying workplace safety and better labour rights.
Islam said the government, the RCC and BGMEA can continue working on strengthening the workplace safety and improve the labour rights.
Islam was the president of BGMEA when the current Accord was signed in May 2013. The current five-year campaign for fire and building safety expires next May and involves only European brands.
Islam, however, admired the remediation activities of the Accord as thousands of loopholes in nearly 3,000 factory buildings have been identified and repaired.
No more industrial accident has taken place in the garment sector since the Rana Plaza building collapse because of strong inspection, remediation and monitoring by the experts of the European-led Accord and the North American-led Alliance, according to Islam. “But, I am concerned about the handling of millions of workers by the Accord as it will work on freedom of association and improvement of labour rights. Bangladesh has its own labour law,” Islam said.
AK Azad, managing director of Ha-Meem Group, another leading garment exporter, echoed Islam.
“The Accord has done excellent work in the first phase as buildings are safe now thanks to its intensive inspection, remediation and monitoring.”
“But, we don't want the extension of the Accord in case freedom of association as it is an internal issue of Bangladesh,” he said.
Rubana Huq, managing director of Mohammadi Group, a leading garment exporter, said the inclusion of freedom of association in the new agreement is very surprising to her whereas Bangladesh has a very strong labour law which has given full freedom of association to the workers at factory level.
She said they had hoped that the signatories of the new agreement would include the government and BGMEA in the executive body of the Accord. But this has not happened.
Huq is concerned about the future of local trade unions if the Accord starts working in the area of freedom of association and labour rights at factory level. “Where will our local unions go?” she asked.
After the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013 that killed 1,138 workers, the retailers and brands formed the Accord with a view to repairing thousands of structural, fire and electrical loopholes in the garment factories.
Yesterday, Valter Sanches, general-secretary of the IndustriALL, said in a statement, “The Accord can be expanded to other sectors, and as worker representatives, we urge you to acknowledge the new Accord's significance as an important step towards responsible global supply chains.”
John Evans, general secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, said the signing of new Accord shows that the legally-binding agreement between brands and unions is a successful model for driving positive change in global supply chains.
“The G20 leaders need to learn this lesson and give it full support,” he said.
On Thursday, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed told The Daily Star that it is the decision of the retailers and unions.
“The extension is not our decision. We don't know about it yet. They have not spoken to us in this connection. We are with them until the expiry of the first agreement.”
So far, 25 lakh Bangladeshi garment workers have been covered by the Accord and 1,800 factories surveyed along with 7,000 periodic follow-up inspections, according to IndustriALL.
A total of 118,500 acts of violations of fire, electrical, and structural safety standards have been identified, and 79 percent of them are being corrected.
As of Thursday, 23 companies signed the new agreement with two Switzerland-based global trade unions IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union.
But a large majority of the previous signatories—217 brands—are expected to be part of the new deal, said Christy Hoffman, deputy general secretary of UNIGlobal Union, according to the Associated Press.