Following the worst industrial accident ever seen in Bangladesh, the loss of 1,131 lives and many more maimed and injured, it is not surprising that the rest of the world wants to step in and help Bangladesh solve its problems.
There has been a need for garment buyers, international trade unions and governments to be seen doing something in the aftermath, and consumers from around the world have been calling for safer factory conditions in Bangladesh.
It is in this context that the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord, more commonly called the Geneva Accord or the EU Accord, has been put together. In fact, planning for this accord had started some time ago, initially as a GIZ plan; the work was then expedited following the Tazreen factory fire.
Clearly, the horrific Rana Plaza collapse catalysed the process further with many major international companies, alongside IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union, agreeing to work together to implement the accord as quickly as possible. Launched in April at the ILO offices in Geneva, it is hence known as the Geneva Accord.
But is an accord put together largely by foreigners and buyers in the best interest of the garments industry in Bangladesh?
The accord has some good points but sadly, excludes many of the factories that most need help and reform. It does not address the financing required to facilitate the reform. Since the accord has been put together by the buyers, large companies buying garments from Bangladesh, it relates only to the factories that these buyers are sourcing from. It is not, by any means, an industry wide solution and most certainly will not prevent another 'Rana Plaza' style disaster in the future.
The best case scenario following implementation of the accord would be that noncompliant factories would be demolished and market forces would ensure that new compliant factories might be built in their wake and over time, the industry would be more compliant and able to attract more foreign investment.
The worst case scenario following the accord's implementation is vastly different. It might suggest that more than five hundred factories might be closed in Dhaka and as many as one million people be out of work, which would lead to riots on the streets. It is a big risk but given that even talk about closing a single factory in recent weeks has led to riots, the risk of social unrest is very real.
One might suggest that there is less risk involved in doing nothing. The garments sector has been on a trajectory of improvement for many years and continues to improve. Maybe the risks of doing nothing are actually less than the risks of implementing a partial solution.
Clearly, an industry wide solution is necessary. The garments sector is the single largest industry in this country, employing 4 million people, contributing to more than 70 percent of exports and a significant part of GDP. A foreign devised partial plan imposed on such an important industry is not the way forward.
It is of particular concern to me that two large international trade unions would be championing a plan that could potentially lead to the loss of many jobs. The role of trade unions is to make jobs more secure and working conditions better. Maybe they are rushing into the implementation of a plan following the Rana Plaza tragedy just so that they can be seen taking some action, however incomplete that action is. It reminds me of a saying I often refer to, 'bad decisions are made in haste'.
We all want to see a stronger and safer garments industry in Bangladesh and the only people that can make this happen are those from this country. In light of this, a group of concerned individuals from various industries, including garments, came together and wrote plan that includes the whole industry. It has a path to compliance for all noncompliant factories, ideas and suggestions for the financing of these and suggestions for the long term strengthening of the industry.
The 10-point RMG reform plan was released at a seminar last week. The working group behind the plan collaborated widely, both inside and outside the industry, both at home and abroad. It is a plan for Bangladesh by Bangladesh and puts the needs and issues of the whole garments industry first. It looks holistically at the industry and has suggestions for the immediate, medium and long term.
The 10-point plan does not apply blame to any sector but seeks to resolve issues within the industry. Factories that are severely non-compliant are not ignored in this plan. It is suggested the factories receive appropriate financing to relocate and become compliant. It is important that Bangladesh does not lose capacity or jobs in its garments industry and that the issues with noncompliant factories are resolved in a timely and safe manner, ensuring that Bangladesh can still supply its customers and maintain growth.
Right now, the garments industry needs a plan that is inclusive and collaborative, as the 10-point plan is. It needs the government, BGMEA, manufacturers, multilateral and bilateral donors to all work together behind a single inclusive plan.
The writer is the CEO of HathayBunanops (at email@example.com), a social business in Bangladesh and is also a member of the working group for the 10 point RMG reform plan. You can read the full text of the 10-point RMG reform plan here:http://www.scribd.com/doc/144709575/RMG-Sector-10-Point-Plan