Bangladeshi factory workers fear rollback of security measures | Company | Economic and financial news from a German point of view | DW
The expiration of the Bangladesh Accord, a legally binding agreement between global brands, retailers and unions, on May 31 and the lack of long-term commitments from brands raised fears for the future safety of workers in the workplace. Bangladesh garment factories.
The Bangladesh Accord received 214 signatures in 2018, including 200 trademarks. A three-month extension of the Agreement has been agreed with 56 brands, including H&M, Inditex, owner of Zara, Adidas, Puma, Uniqlo, Otto Group, Bestseller, KIK and Tchibo.
But fears remain for the long-term protection of Bangladeshi workers. UNI Global Union and IndustriALL Global Union, trade union signatories to the Bangladesh Accord, say multinational brands want to return to self-monitoring of their own supply chains, which could undermine transparency and accountability, and have disastrous consequences for the lives of millions of garment workers.
Christina Hajagos-Clausen, director of textiles and clothing at IndustriALL union, argues that an evolution towards a model where a ‘brand association’ group, created by brands, would in fact act as arbiter for inspections, rather as the independent body currently in charge of maintaining brands online.
“Individual brands have to be held accountable, this cannot be an association that is held accountable,” she told DW, adding that self-monitoring could potentially lead to poorly managed factories, such as we have seen it in the past and in the present. On the same day that the Bangladesh Accord expired, a major fire broke out in a garment factory in Karachi, Pakistan.
Rana Plaza tragedy spurs change
The Bangladesh Accord was introduced following the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, killing at least 1,100 people and considered the deadliest industrial disaster in modern history. It provided mechanisms for factory workers to file complaints, to be trained in the detection of health and safety violations, and to serve on advisory boards. Forty-eight German companies signed the renegotiated agreement in 2018, the most of one country.
The success of the Bangladesh Accord rests on a governance structure where unions have equal power with brands, supported by an independent body with transparency obligations.
“We have been able to work with the brands despite very difficult times over the years. We don’t always agree on everything, far from it. But we have worked to find consensus on many of the difficult issues we face when it comes to inspecting thousands of factories, ”said Christy Hoffman, Secretary General of UNI Global Union.
Bangladeshi factory workers say the deal has changed their lives for the better and fear its demise despite a short extension for some brands.
“I firmly believe that if the deal is kept, we will not have to die in fires and building collapses,” said Ronjona Aktar Hashi of the Alliance Knit Composite factory on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Mohammad Muzaffar in a nearby factory lost his leg in a factory collapse. He fears that “the situation of garment workers will worsen” if the agreement does not continue in the same vein as it has since 2013.
“We have large fire doors installed in four floors of the plant. We have fire extinguishers on every floor. These weren’t in place before.”
Some believe the COVID pandemic may have allowed some businesses to step back when no one is watching
A model for workers’ rights and the duty of care under threat
In January 2020, just months before COVID-19 reached Europe, a report by the European Commission hailed the Bangladesh Accord as the gold standard for supply chain due diligence. The EU is currently preparing legislation that will ensure that companies are legally responsible for their supply chains and respect human rights.
Danish MEP Karen Melchior said EU lawmakers “must ensure that workers’ human rights are protected and we must do so through mandatory requirements”, such as signing trade agreements that respect Human rights laws of the International Labor Organization.
“Individual companies have an obligation to ensure that their production meets minimum standards, regardless if the government and authorities of this country do not keep factories and producers accountable for complying with national law,” a- she told DW.
Christie Miedema, labor rights activist with the Clean Clothes campaign, says the pandemic may have allowed some companies to “step back when no one is watching”, despite the deal that works for brands with informed and socially conscious consumers as well as workers.
Otto Group said in a statement that it is “committed to making RSC the industry standard for ensuring the safety of workers in Bangladesh’s garment sector now and in the future.” RSC is a permanent safety oversight body for industry in Bangladesh.
“We are committed to securing the independence, resources and funding of this organization to ensure occupational safety for all workers in Bangladesh today and in the future,” said Aldi Nord, another signatory. of the agreement, in a press release.