Bangladesh: Accord to continue operations for 281 working days as transition agreement is reached
On 19 May 2019, after months of delays and uncertainty, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building finally struck a deal with the Bangladesh Garment Employers Association (BGMEA) concerning the future of its operations in the country. A memorandum of understanding written by the two entities and endorsed by the Government of Bangladesh was approved by the country’s Appellate Court yesterday.
According to the memorandum of understanding, the Bangladesh Accord has agreed to leave Bangladesh in 281 working days. A new safety entity called RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) will be established during this period. It will be governed by a board consisting of representatives of the BGMEA, fashion brands and national trade unions. Once the Accord leaves Bangladesh, RSC will inherit both its staff and infrastructure. Additionally, the RSC will work in cooperation with the government of Bangladesh to ensure its work complements the work of the Remediation Coordination Cell.
Established in 2013 by 200 international brands after the Rana Plaza factory building collapse, the Bangladesh Accord is an independent organization conducting safety inspections in garment factories. Last year, the Bangladesh government ordered the organization to cease its operations by November 30, claiming that its national regulatory body, the Remediation Coordination Cell, is fully capable of taking over their work. The Accord disagreed and a legal battle ensued.
While many have welcomed the extension deal, concerns have been voiced that the terms and conditions of the extension threaten to undermine the Accord's independence.
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Author: Clean Clothes Campaign
"Questions raised after agreement reached on Bangladesh Accord", 21 May 2019
...This memorandum concludes a period of uncertainty about the Accord’s future in the country...but does not take away the feeling of uncertainty entirely, by remaining ambiguous about the immediate impact on the workings of the Accord. It also raises questions on vital elements of the follow up institution foreseen...
...The agreed presence of a “BGMEA unit”...and the exact function of this unit, are sources of concern. According to the MoU, factories’ Corrective Action Plans will be evaluated in collaboration with this unit. This raises questions about employers’ influence over the independent decision-making processes of Accord staff. Furthermore, a visible employers’ presence inside the Accord office might negatively impact the willingness of workers to rely on its complaint mechanism...
Fears exist that the BGMEA...will try to use this unit to exert undue influence on the Accord’s independent functioning against the intent of the MoU...
The MoU does not...provide clarity on what will be the the new institution’s decision-making structure, finance mechanism, or enforcement mechanism...This means that serious questions raised by the addition of a new stakeholder (employers) to the programme remain unaddressed...It is also unclear what the apparent exclusion of NGO watchdogs from this new body will mean for the...transparency of this institution..."
The insistence on a time-bound transition process raises the question as to what has happened to the agreement reached with the BGMEA and government of Bangladesh in 2017, which stated that the Accord would only transition its tasks to a Bangladeshi safety body if that organization could first be shown to meet strict, jointly agreed-upon readiness criteria...
Author: Ruma Paul & Serajul Quadir, Thomson Reuters
"Bangladesh garment unions say new factory oversight deal risks worker safety", 21 May 2019
The end of an international arrangement aimed at ensuring the wellbeing of Bangladeshi garment workers is likely to undermine safety by making factory owners responsible for maintaining standards, trade union leaders said on Tuesday...
...On Sunday, a court approved a plan to transfer the factory oversight team that works under...the Accord...to a group led by the top garment manufacturer’s association.
But leaders of seven garment workers’ unions say they were not consulted on the arrangement, which they said could give too much power to the factory owners, who union leaders fear lack the incentive to invest in safety.
“This deal is sure to compromise the safety and security of garment workers given there will be no independent decision-making by the Accord,” said Babul Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation. "This was framed without any discussion with labour unions.”
Unions will decide this week on what action they might take to protest against the arrangement.
...Government officials say the Accord is no longer needed...the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC), is able to do the job.
But the Accord says the RCC is not yet to the task. “Our assessment is that currently the RCC isn’t yet ready to take over all of the functions and work of the Accord,” said Joris Oldenziel, a spokesman for the Accord.
The government said it will work toward ensuring factory safety even after the Accord exits. “There will be no lapses ... this is a question of existence,” said Mohammad Mofizul Islam, a commerce ministry official...
...“We have a feeling that it may not be possible for others to repeat what the Accord has achieved in Bangladesh,” said Rani Khan, general secretary of another trade union, the Mukto Garment Sramik Federation.
"Accord Reaches Resolution on Continuation of Its Work in Bangladesh", 19 May 2019
On 19 May 2019, the Accord presented a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to the Appellate Court in Bangladesh in relation to the High Court order which would have closed the Accord Bangladesh office operations... The MoU has been accepted...and will result in the 2018 Transition Accord and Accord Bangladesh office and operations continuing in Bangladesh for 281 working days...
The MoU will lead to the establishment of a national RMG safety entity to be called the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC). After the transition period of 281 working days, the RSC will take over all Accord Bangladesh operations and will inherit the Accord infrastructure and staff.
The RSC will be governed by a structure consisting of representatives of the BGMEA, global brands, and global and national trade unions. The RSC will work in cooperation with the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) to ensure the work of the RSC compliments the work of the GoB Remediation Coordination Cell...
...IndustriAll and UNI-Global state: “the MoU ensures that the functions and procedures of the Accord model and the voice of unions in policy and governance will be preserved with the establishment of the RMG Sustainability Council”.
Accord Steering Committee brand representatives state: “establishing this national industry / labour private initiative will make the past Accord achievement sustainable, establishing a local increased health & safety awareness and preserving the ability of the global brands and retailers to continue collaborating with their suppliers in the effort to achieve, maintain, and expand safety in the Bangladesh RMG industry”...
"Analysis: Terms of extension to strip independence of Accord?", 19 May 2019
...Supreme Court allowed an extension to Accord for 281 working days, from the date of agreement, May 8, which will go well beyond February 2020. But, from now on, the extension offered is conditional and subjected to terms and condition of the agreement... The agreement states that BGMEA will form a committee within the Accord which will gradually take over all safety related matters in the apparel industry in time.
...Accord has been handed a four-point guideline which it will follow to continue its operation in Bangladesh and gradually make transition of its work to the state-run Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC).
The four-point guidelines are:
1) There will be no termination or escalation of any factory from Accord’s end without the agreement of the BGMEA Unit.
2) ACCORD agreed that there will be no group termination in case of the failure of one factory.
3) There will be no duplication of inspection between the safety initiatives (RCC, ACCORD and Nirapon). This means that factories once inspected by ACCORD, Nirapon, RCC or any other inspecting authority will be considered as common standard.
4) In case of any dispute between BGMEA unit and ACCORD, the matter will be referred to RCC for final settlement...
"Bangladesh factory safety monitors get court extension", 19 May 2019
Global clothing brands including H&M, Primark and Tesco won a Bangladesh Supreme Court case Sunday, allowing international factory safety monitors to operate in the country which has had a string of industrial disasters...
The Supreme Court said the Accord could keep operating for 281 more working days, around 13-14 months, after it made a deal with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) lobbying group, a lawyer said...
Christie Miedema, a spokesperson from the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, said the group was studying the deal to understand its consequences.
But local union leader Babul Akhter said the deal gives wider powers to factory owners and was a threat to worker safety. "It will have bad consequences," he told AFP...