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Article

12 Aug 2021

Author:
Washington Monthly

Bangladesh: Accord due to expire on Aug 31, raises questions about future safety of workers

"Backsliding in Bangladesh"", 12 August 2021

Kalpona Akter, the child garment worker who became a national union leader in Bangladesh, is worried. On August 31, a landmark workplace safety agreement expires.

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Local unions, their international labor allies, and global solidarity groups pushed through the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in 2013, after the worldwide horror when 1134 workers, the majority of them young women, died when the eight-story Rana Plaza factory building collapsed. The Accord was transparent and legally binding on the brands. But now...certain big international brands are trying to make any future agreement “voluntary,” relying on “codes of conduct” that they will write themselves...

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Akter last month wrote an open letter to two European Commissioners describing how, after the Rana Plaza building collapse, she and others picked through the rubble.

..Bangladeshi workers were thankful for the inspections and safety improvements. The Accord arranged for independent monitors to inspect more than 2500 factories, where they found close to 130,000 safety violations. The 300 most dangerous workplaces were blacklisted. As one likely consequence, there have been no major new disasters in Bangladesh’s garment industry since Rana Plaza.

But many leading American brands never signed the Accord in the first place. Walmart, the Gap, and others instead concocted an “Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety,” a weak alternative that was not legally binding...The Alliance expired in 2018.

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When the Covid pandemic hit last year, sales in Europe and America skidded — and most of the big brands simply stopped paying their suppliers in Bangladesh, (and in other garment-producing countries) — even for clothing that had already been sewn...[T]he Clean Clothes Campaign, a European solidarity alliance based in Amsterdam, estimates that Bangladesh garment workers are still owed $844 million. ...

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