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22 Apr 2021

Workers Rights Consortium

Bangladesh: WRC accuses brands of refusing to sign binding agreement on worker safety to replace Accord, highlighting ineffectiveness of voluntary programmes in protecting workers

“Why would leading apparel brands and retailers – like Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, and American Eagle – walk away from a life saving inspection program that is the only effective safety initiative in their global supply chains”, 22 April 2021

The Rana Plaza apparel factory collapse killed more workers than any other manufacturing disaster in human history…

… [M]ost of buildings in which workers died en masse were covered by apparel brands’ own factory inspection programs … thousands of factory inspections under the brands’ programs of voluntary self-regulation never succeeded in identifying, much less addressing, the hazards that were killing workers, even though these hazards … were obvious to any competent safety engineer.

Today, the Bangladesh garment industry is vastly safer … The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh swiftly identified more than 100,000 deadly safety hazards across the 1,600-plus factories covered by the program…

The Accord worked, where a hundred voluntary programs that preceded it did not, because the brands’ commitments are legally binding…

Unfortunately, the very elements that make the Accord effective at saving lives—enforceability, independent oversight, constraints on brands’ choice of suppliers—do not sit well with the people who run those corporations …

The Accord is set to expire on May 31. Unions and labor rights advocates have proposed a binding successor agreement that will continue the Accord model in Bangladesh… and expand the model to other countries where garment workers’ lives are routinely put at risk, including Pakistan, India, and Cambodia.

Brands and retailers want none of this: they refuse to sign a binding agreement; they want to turn over safety inspections of their factories in Bangladesh to a voluntary body; and they will not support any international programs unless the independent inspectors are brought under the control of the brands