Local government not ready to take over Bangladesh Accord’s responsibilities

Bangladesh’s safety inspection agencies are not ready to assume responsibility for the  1,688 garment factories under the purview of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, according to a report published this week by the Clean Clothes Campaign, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Maquila Solidarity Network and the Worker Rights Consortium.

The Bangladesh Accord is a legally-binding pact signed by 200 fashion companies following the Rana Plaza building collapse, when 1100 garment factory workers lost their lives. It employs around 100 independent inspectors who carry out approximately 500 factory inspections each month. Last year, however, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh ordered the Accord to leave the country, claiming that the Remediation Coordination Cell, a national regulatory body, is fully capable of taking over their work. The Accord appealed the decision, and a new hearing to decide on its fate is scheduled for April 7.

“Shocking level of unreadiness”

According to the report, the Bangladesh government “shows a shocking level of unreadiness”. Each of the 745 factories under the government’s inspection program “have yet to eliminate high risk safety hazards” which were identified between three and five years ago, including lockable exit ways, highly stressed columns, exposed electrical wiring and lack of adequate fire alarm systems.

Although the government states that 29 percent of all renovations required at the factories under its supervision have been completed, a closer look at the government’s own data reveals that this is a “gross overstatement”, according to the report. 346 of the 400 factories for which there is available information have completed less than 20 percent of all required renovations. Only two factories have completed between 21 and 40 percent of renovations. “By contrast, 89 percent of renovations required at factories covered by the Accord have been completed,” the organizations say.

Additionally, the report claims the Bangladesh government failed to shut down factories that were deemed so dangerous workers’ immediate safety is at risk. Inspectors hired by the Accord classified 114 garment factories as “critically unsafe”, but today “half of these same facilities operate again under the government’s inspection program. There is no indication in the government’s own records that any safety improvements have been made to these factories”. The concerned organizations conclude that a disaster similar to Rana Plaza can happen again in Bangladesh, as the cracks in the Rana Plaza building were reported days before its collapse in 2013, but the government failed to act upon the complaints.

Speaking of complaints, the government claims to have received only 18 of them through its complaint mechanism since 2013 — a stark difference to the amount of complaints received by the Bangladesh Accord in the same period: 1,152. The disparity may be explained by the fact the government’s platform does not guarantee anonymity to the workers who file a complaint.

“Both the brands and labor signatories of the 2018 Transition Accord are committed to transfer the inspection and remediation work once a credible national regulatory agency is in place”, said the authors of the report in a statement. “Currently, international stakeholders across the board agree that Bangladesh’s national inspection agencies do not yet meet the expected standard when it comes to transparency, monitoring, or enforcement”.

Fashion brands call for Bangladesh Accord to stay in the country

While the Accord’s fate is still up in the air, Clean Clothes Campaign is collecting support statements from international brands operating in the country. “Despite significant progress on worker safety measures, the Accord’s work is not completed, and the government’s Remediation and Coordination Cell does not yet have the capacity nor has it demonstrated the willingness to inspect factories to the same standards”, stated sportswear label Adidas. “This is a complex work which requires specialist knowledge, availability of international safety equipment and the necessary technical know-how”, added Esprit.

“Inditex stresses the importance of maintaining a sustainable, transparent, organised and measurable co-operation that aims to constantly improve workers’ conditions and that avoids any negative potential business implications. This will require collaboration between the Accord and the national regulatory body of Bangladesh, with the support of the International Labour Organization”, declared the Spanish fast fashion giant. One of its main competitors, the Swedish H&M, also supports the Accord: “We want to complete the remediation [at our factories] because we recognise there is no adequate structure in place to regulate safety in Bangladesh”.