EIGHT YEARS SINCE RANA PLAZA COLLAPSE –‘the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry’

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Bangladesh garment workers demand the continuation of the Accord to maintain workplace safety

ON THE eighth anniversary of Rana Plaza on Saturday 24 April, UNI Global Union and IndustriALL demanded fashion brands commit to a new legally-binding global agreement to succeed the Bangladesh Accord, which is due to expire at the end of May.

The Accord has transformed fire and building safety in the Bangladesh garment industry since it was established by UNI and IndustriALL in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed over a thousand workers.

As the deadline for the Accord looms, UNI and IndustriALL are calling for a global agreement, enforceable on individual brands, which would safeguard the achievements made in Bangladesh and expand the principles and commitments to other countries.

Christy Hoffman, UNI Global Union’s General Secretary, and Valter Sanches, General Secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, said in a joint statement:

‘Out of the rubble of Rana Plaza, the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry, IndustriALL and UNI Global union constructed the legally-binding Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

‘Our goal is to ensure that no Bangladeshi worker would ever have to risk their life in a garment factory again.

‘Our organisations had long been calling on brands sourcing from Bangladesh to remedy dangerous conditions in the country’s garment factories before Rana Plaza.

‘But it took the deaths of 1,100 workers in a single catastrophe – a tragedy so deadly, so horrific and so unnecessary – to finally jolt these companies into squaring up to their responsibilities.

‘The Bangladesh Accord was ahead of its time, and it remains a model that is lauded for its design and results. The New York Times has called it “the most effective campaign of the globalised era.” 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 Accord was successful, in part, because it made workers a part of the solution through training and health and safety committees. It also transformed transparency in supply chains and made brands accountable with legally-binding enforcement.

‘The Bangladesh Accord also established an independent body to inspect and survey factories supplying signatory brands. Factories had to comply, or they would lose these brands’ business. And brands were responsible for much of the costs to make these factories safe. After a campaign by unions and NGOs, more than 200 brands signed on.

‘Since its launch in 2013, Accord engineers have carried out over 38,000 inspections in factories covering two million workers. Over 120,000 fire, building and electrical hazards have been fixed.

‘The remediation progress rate at Accord factories is at 93 per cent, 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 issue without fear of reprisal, and the right to join a union. More than 1.8 million workers have been trained in workplace safety. Workers have made over 3,000 grievances through the health and safety complaints mechanisms.

‘But this could change if global brands and retailers do not sign a successor agreement – a Global Agreement on Textile and Ready-Made Garment Factory Safety and Health, which would safeguard the achievement made in Bangladesh and expand the principles and commitments to other countries.

‘A 2020 decision by the Bangladesh High Court expelled the Accord from the country and handed day-to day Accord operations to the Ready-Made Garment Sustainability Council – a tripartite body made up of brands, factory owners and global and national unions.

‘The RSC is carrying out a similar mandate to the Accord, but it does not have the Accord’s expertise or its legally binding framework with individual brands to enforce change.

‘The success of the RSC, like that of the Accord, will rely in a major way on how global brands and global unions work together to make it happen.

‘That is why fashion brands must each sign a new, binding agreement that builds on the successes of the Accord. The deal would allow national and global unions to enforce workplace safety measures and ensure that brands are fully meeting their commitments for safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry. It would provide the support needed to make sure that the RSC fully delivers on the Accord principles and commitments.

Now brands have a simple choice to make – recommit to a binding agreement with the global trade unions that will continue making factories safe in Bangladesh – or turn their backs on millions of garment workers in their supply chains and return to the failed system of self-monitoring.

‘We call on brands to step up and sign up, once more, to keep the progress of the Accord in place. The lives of garment workers in Bangladesh and elsewhere are depending on you. They have not forgotten Rana Plaza – have you?’

Canadian unions also issued a statement marking the anniversary of the fire

‘Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothing exporter and during the Covid-19 crisis, hundreds of factories closed as international and Canadian brands and retailers cancelled orders and refused to pay for orders already in production.

‘Factories fired over a million workers and many refused to pay legally earned severance pay. Workers were left with no savings from subsistence-level salaries and no access to social protection to support them in times of trouble.

‘The forecast remains dire for garment sector workers as global demand for apparel items remains low.

‘It is of immense importance to build up social protection systems in Bangladesh and other garment-producing countries.

‘Trade unions and labour rights organisations call for strengthened unemployment protection and the respect for all workers’ rights, including the right to organise.

‘Retailers and brands must take responsibility for issues in their supply chains and contribute to a global wage assurance and severance guarantee fund to help workers survive the crisis.

‘Workers in Bangladesh have been courageously organising and fighting for their rights for years but need the support of voices in purchasing countries such as Canada, in order to push Canadian brands to rebuild a just economy after the pandemic by establishing more sustainable and resilient supply chains that respect workers’ rights and ensure suppliers pay workers living wages and social benefits.

Extend the Bangladesh Accord for Health & Safety

‘The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement between unions and brands and retailers created after the Rana Plaza collapse of 2013, led to real change in making death trap factories safe.

‘Since its establishment, the Bangladesh Accord has provided safer working conditions for over two million garment workers by carrying out inspections and overseeing repairs and maintenance in more than 1,600 factories.

‘The current agreement will end in late May and action is needed to safeguard progress in workplace safety.

‘There are great concerns about the functioning of the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), the body that took over Bangladesh-based operations from the Bangladesh Accord. It is voluntary instead of being legally binding and workers hold less representation on its governing body.

‘To prevent the RSC from becoming yet another industry-led voluntary initiative, the brands and retailers who signed the Accord before, including Loblaws (Joe Fresh), must make sure to lay their commitments down in writing again in a new international legally binding agreement.

‘Now is the time for other Canadian brands, such as Lululemon Athletica, HBC, YM Group Inc, Arc’teryx and Canadian Tire, to also sign on to a new Accord. Brands and retailers must act now to protect progress and ensure an incident like Rana Plaza never happens again.

Mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence

‘A company’s responsibility flows through its entire corporate structure, including its business relationships and through its entire supply chain.

‘The Government of Canada must legislate companies to respect human rights in their global operations and supply chains. Such legislation should require companies to conduct due diligence on their human rights and environmental risks, take appropriate steps to prevent and mitigate such risks and hold companies accountable in the courts if they abuse human rights.

Action:

‘Support workers in Canadian supply chains by writing to Canadian companies Lululemon Athletica and YM Group to contribute to a Severance Guarantee Fund. Email and/or send a tweet to the CEO of Lululemon and the YM Group.’

Endorsed by:

Canadian Labour Congress

Canadian Union of Public Employees

Centre international de solidarité ouvrière

Inter Pares

Maquila Solidarity Network

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation

Oxfam Canada

Public Service Alliance of Canada

United Steelworkers

Workers United Canada Council.