The ready-made garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh now stands at a crossroads. We will soon be waving goodbye to two organisations that have had a huge impact on the safety of factories in our garments industry—ushering it into a bright new era. The European-based Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was signed on May 15, 2013. This five-year independent, legally binding agreement between global brands and retailers and trade unions was designed to build a safe and healthy Bangladeshi RMG industry—and there is little doubt that the Accord has led to a significant increase in safety in our RMG factories.
According to the Accord's own statistics, the initiative has so far inspected more than 1,600 factories and completed over 89 percent of remediation work in the units. A total of 172 factories completed 100 percent remediation while 171 units faced business termination due to their failure in fixing safety faults.
Meanwhile, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, launched by 28 major global retailers later in 2013, is also a binding, five-year undertaking with the intent of improving safety in Bangladeshi RMG factories. Collectively, Alliance members represent the majority of North American imports of readymade garments from Bangladesh, produced in more than 650 factories.
The Accord and Alliance were, of course, formed following the tragic Rana Plaza incident. Rana Plaza itself was the price our country paid for the unregulated growth of the Bangladesh apparel industry.
After Rana Plaza, Accord and Alliance brought a semblance of order to the Bangladesh RMG industry which is now much safer and well placed to open its next chapter. Our industry must be indebted to the Accord and Alliance for the great job they have done.
The tenure of the Accord was initially supposed to come to an end in May but the government extended it by six months. There have also been international calls by MEPs and labour rights NGOs for this deadline to be extended. A recent high court verdict has announced the timeline of Accord in Bangladesh to last till November 30.
Nevertheless, there are many who claim the work of the Bangladesh Accord, and Alliance, is not yet complete and more importantly, that a smooth transition of responsibilities that the Accord and Alliance have done over last years to a similar local body is needed.
Our government has formed Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) to take over the Accord's and Alliance's work. The RCC will focus on managing the remediation process for garment factories under the Government of Bangladesh's National Initiative. It will be staffed and supported by seconded members of regulatory bodies including the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments, Fire Service and Civil Defense, RAJUK, Chief Electrical Inspector, Public Works Department and Chittagong Development Authority. These organisations will initially be supported by private sector engineers hired to provide technical expertise for remediation follow up. Importantly, the RCC is also supported by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Indeed the long-term solution must surely lie in building capacity and strengthening the local safety monitoring authority. The Accord and Alliance might soon be gone but the eyes of the world will be watching more than ever our RMG sector. The handover had to happen at some stage, but RCC must be fully ready to carry on the huge and herculean task. There is no doubt that Accord and the Alliance have done a wonderful job to ensure safety of Bangladesh apparel factories, and this work has also been instrumental to improving the image of the industry which was shattered by the tragic Rana Plaza incident. Our RMG industry has changed beyond recognition since Rana Plaza.
I am in support of the view that the presence of two external safety platforms in Bangladesh was never going to be a long-term solution. But I would like to see a safe and flourishing garment export industry in Bangladesh. So, the handover of the work needs a more careful approach and attention with the consensus of all the stakeholders and authorities while having utmost respect to our judiciary. The journey of collaboration between brands, partners and policymakers needs to be continued, while strengthening of RCC is crucial to sustain our progress. What we have achieved in Bangladesh with the support of the Accord and Alliance should be carried out to take our RMG sector to an exciting new chapter.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org