Garment workers in Bangladesh need new legal protection
* All opinions expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Eight years after the deadly factory collapse, fashion brands must show their commitment to garment workers in Bangladesh by signing a new legally binding agreement on worker safety.
Christy Hoffman is Secretary General of UNI Global Union
Valter Sanches is Secretary General of IndustriALL Global Union
On the rubble of Rana Plaza, the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry, IndustriALL and union UNI Global have drawn up Bangladesh’s legally binding agreement on fire and building safety. Our goal – to ensure that no Bangladeshi worker has to risk his life again in a garment factory.
Our organizations have long relied on brands sourcing from Bangladesh to remedy unsafe conditions in garment factories across the country prior to Rana Plaza. But it took the deaths of 1,100 workers in a single disaster – such a deadly, horrific and unnecessary tragedy – to finally push these companies to take responsibility.
The Bangladesh Accord was ahead of its time and remains a praised model for its design and results. The New York Times called it “the most effective campaign in the globalized age.” A recent European Commission study on due diligence in supply chains praised the effectiveness and impact of the Accord model and its binding nature.
The deal was successful, in part because it brought workers into the solution through training and health and safety committees. It has also transformed transparency in supply chains and made brands accountable through legally binding enforcement.
The Bangladesh Accord also established an independent body to inspect and monitor factories providing signatory marks. Factories had to comply or else they would lose the business of those brands. And brands were responsible for much of the cost of securing these factories. After a campaign by unions and NGOs, more than 200 brands have registered.
Since its launch in 2013, Accord engineers have performed more than 38,000 inspections at factories covering two million workers. Over 120,000 fire, building and electrical hazards have been corrected. The sanitation progress rate at Accord factories is 93%, while inspectors have disqualified 190 factories for failing to meet safety requirements.
Workers and unions now have the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to report a safety concern without fear of reprisal, and the right to join a union. Over 1.8 million workers have been trained in workplace safety. Workers lodged more than 3,000 complaints through the health and safety complaints mechanisms.
But that could change if global brands and retailers don’t sign a replacement agreement – a global agreement on the safety and health of textile and ready-to-wear factories, which would ensure Bangladesh’s achievement and extend the principles. and commitments to other countries.
A 2020 Bangladesh High Court ruling expelled the Accord from the country and turned the day-to-day operations of the Accord over to the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council – a tripartite body made up of brands, factory owners and unions. global and national.
The CBC is carrying out a mandate similar to the Accord, but it does not have the expertise of the Accord or its legally binding framework with individual brands to enforce the change. The success of JSR, like that of the Accord, will largely depend on how global brands and global unions work together to achieve it.
This is why fashion brands must each sign a new binding agreement that builds on the successes of the Accord. The agreement would allow national and global unions to enforce workplace safety measures and ensure that brands fully meet their safety commitments in the garment industry in Bangladesh. It would provide the necessary support to ensure that the CBC fully respects the principles and commitments of the Accord.
Now brands have an easy choice – renew their commitment to a binding deal with global unions that will continue to secure factories in Bangladesh – or turn their backs on millions of garment workers in their supply chains and come back. to the failing system of autonomy. surveillance.
We call on brands to step up and sign up, once again, to keep the Accord’s progress in place. The lives of garment workers in Bangladesh and beyond depend on you. They haven’t forgotten Rana Plaza – have they?