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1 Jun 2020

Bangladesh: Signatories extend Accord by 3 months, under pressure to negotiate new legally binding agreement with unions to ensure worker safety

On 1 June 2020, the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) took over the work of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh after the Accord ceased operations on 31 May. The Bangladesh Accord was established in May 2013 in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh that killed at least 1,134 people and injured over 2,000 others. In mid-January 2020, the Accord Steering Committee signed an agreement with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) on the transition to the RSC. The RSC will be governed by a board consisting of representatives of the BGMEA, fashion brands and national trade unions.

However, some labour groups have warned the RSC lacks effective safeguards to protect workers. They are especially concerned that the new voluntary programme will not have the same effectiveness as the legally binding Accord in protecting workers. In October 2020, the Accord's NGO Witness Signatories published a brief outlining their concerns, chief amongst which was the underrepresentation of workers and unions on the RSC's board. In November 2020, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), a member of the RSC's governing board, published a response to this brief. Ahead of the transition period coming to an end on 31 May 2021, labour rights organisations renewed their calls to brands to negotiate a new legally binding agreement on worker safety to protect workers in Bangladesh and around the world.

UNI Global Union and IndustriALL Global Union announced their intention to withdraw from the RSC on 1 June 2021. Both unions have expressed concern over the RSC abandoning brand accountability and independent monitoring of brands, key features of the Accord. They have called for the Accord to be renewed and expanded to protect workers internationally.

Four witness signatories to the Accord (Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, Worker Rights Consortium, International Labor Rights Forum) published a report entitled Unfinished Business: Outstanding safety hazards at garment factories show that the Accord must be extended and expanded. This report highlighted the continued safety hazards faced by garment workers in factories supplying major global fashion brands and called on those brands to commit to a new legally binding worker safety agreement. In May 2021, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited the brands identified in the report to respond to these allegations and on the calls to extend and expand the Accord- their responses can be seen here. In their responses, Zeeman and Joe Fresh became the most recent brands to indicate willingness to support an extension of the Accord, following previous commitments by Tchibo and ASOS.

On 31 May 2021, the day of the expiry of the Accord, global unions and brands agreed to a last minute extension to the commitments of the 2018 Transition Accord, by a period of 3 months, to allow negotiations to continue.

On 4 August 2021, Clean Clothes Campaign launched a tracker, to monitor brands that are 1. willing to sign a new agreement that is legally enforceable on individual brands 2. has independent oversight, and 3. can be expanded to other countries, and those that did not want to commit to some or all of the crucial elements for a new agreement, or have not answered Clean Clothes Campaign at all.