The April 24 ritual – Rana Plaza’s unfinished legacy
24 April 2018
These two initiatives [Accord and Alliance], both led by reputed brands, came to very different conclusions about what has changed in the past five years, which raises the question—why? Could it be that having workers centrally involved in designing and contributing to the administration of an initiative offers a worker perspective that can better inform decisions about whether to “transition” or stay? To be clear—workers are not just “any” stakeholder in such decisions. They stand on a different footing from other “stakeholders” because they risk paying with their lives and limb. Worker participation in such initiatives should not be a box checking exercise. When it comes to initiatives that can save workers from dying, participation within an enforceable framework agreement—as is the case with the Accord—allows worker representatives to negotiate protection until they are satisfied that the outcomes contain meaningful procedures to enhance workplace safety.
Brands pinning their hopes on a “quick transition” should be realistic. The Bangladesh government has created a committee to periodically assess whether the stage for “transitioning” from the Accord has been set. In the interim, joining the Accord offers the best available worker protection program. First, the Bangladesh government has not shown the kind of “measurable progress” that would demonstrate that locally led initiatives developed in partnership with the government are capable of assuring factory safety... After speaking to workers from a handful of factories that were terminated from the Accord for being repeat defaulters, we discovered that most workers continued working in extremely unsafe factories. They did not know where or how to look for another job in a safer factory. Moreover, the Bangladesh government did not appear to be temporarily suspending these factories’ operations—let alone closing them down... Second, a credible complaints process is one of the most important value-added of the private initiatives. The track record of the Bangladesh government when it comes to complaints resolution is especially poor—and brands should be looking more closely at not just numbers but how these complaints are resolved. In the past, the International Labor Organization has repeatedly criticized the Bangladesh authorities’ dismal record of resolving complaints concerning unfair labor practices by factories... Third, while the Accord is a much-needed human rights risk prevention, mitigation, and remediation program for workers, it also affords legal risk mitigation for apparel companies who are sourcing from Bangladesh with its credible inspections, monitoring and complaints mechanism for workers, and transparent reporting of progress.