As FashionUnited reported a week ago, a restraining order by the government of Bangladesh has been placed on the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Accord), which was due to take effect on 30th November, then 6th December and now 17th December. In other words, the future of the Bangladesh Accord is still in limbo.
In the government’s submission to the High Court regarding the Accord’s appeal against an order that it cease operating in Bangladesh from 30th November, it has stated that the Accord should only be allowed to continue operations in Bangladesh under a set of highly obstructive constraints, which would strip the globally-respected safety initiative of its ability to operate independently of government and employer control. The constraints include that this will be the last extension allowed to the Accord maintaining its office in Dhaka.
Specifically, this would mean subjecting all Accord decisions to the approval of a government committee, preventing the Accord from taking any action against factory owners who threaten or fire workers for raising safety complaints, and prohibiting Accord inspectors from identifying any new safety violations, “effectively requiring them to ignore deadly hazards found during their inspections, such as faulty alarm systems, blocked fire exits, and cracks in structural columns,” as the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) summed up yesterday in a press release, ultimately destroying the Accord’s independence.
At a hearing on 6th December where the Accord’s response to the constraints on its operations was tabled, the government of Bangladesh requested another hearing on 10th December to allow time to consider the response. Yesterday, the government has requested, and been granted, a further delay until 17th December. That means with no clear direction that the future of the Accord continues to hang in the balance and in the meantime, its representatives’ hands are being tied and unable to act.
Thus, the global union signatories to the Accord – IndustriALL and UNI – and the four witness signatories – Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network, and Worker Rights Consortium – call on Bangladesh’s trading partners and global apparel brands to press the government of Bangladesh to refrain from imposing these shocking impediments to the Accord continuing its life-saving work.
Bangladesh Accord comes to a standstill
As much as it is understandable that the government of Bangladesh would like to gain full control over how the factories that create 80 percent of the country’s export goods are run and inspected, it is also clear that this can only happen when workers’ safety and building and fire safety can be guaranteed. And this is not the case with the proposed solution, namely the government’s Remediation and Coordination Cell (RCC) taking over all responsibilities.
“The Accord has long committed to handing over its functions to a suitable national regulatory body, however the government’s RCC is still in an early stage of development. There is broad consensus among stakeholders, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), Bangladesh’s major trading partners, and brands, that the RCC is not yet ready to perform the inspection tasks of the Accord and has no proven record of enforcing safety in the factories under its purview,” explains CCC in its press release.
Knowing this, the Accord has already proposed a solution: “The Accord is committed to building up the capacity of the RCC and to cooperation with the government and its inspection bodies to ensure a smooth transition. It has already submitted a plan of how this can be done, but the government has so far failed to comment on it”.
“A genuine transition plan for factory inspections, safety trainings, and a worker complaint mechanism will need much more time and genuine engagement by the government. It will not be possible unless the Accord is able to continue its operations without restriction. The Accord is a private contract that will remain binding upon the signatory brands until 2021, or until the RCC is demonstrably ready,” concludes the CCC.
It remains to be seen if stalling will be the method employed by the government of Bangladesh or if on 17th December, the Bangladesh Accord will be able to move ahead, whatever the decision may be.