At a meeting with garment exporters in Dhaka last week, Finance Minister AMA Muhith said both the Accord and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, another initiative to improve safety in the low-wage nation’s ready made garment sector, have become an encumbrance to the industry because of their stringent conditions, The Daily Star reported.
He said the rigorous inspections each initiative has imposed in order to upgrade building and worker safety are an attempt to stunt the progress of the country’s growth in garments.
The EU-led Accord, backed by nearly 200 retailers including Fast Retailing, Inditex and H&M has so far inspected nearly 1,600 member factories for safety conditions, and the U.S.-led Alliance, which consists of 26 members including Gap, Hudson’s Bay and Macy’s, has done the same with its 600 member facilities.
Global unions IndustriALL and UNI denounced the minister’s comments in a letter, calling on him to stop sending messages that could undermine necessary factory safety improvements.
“Your remarks wrongly accuse the Accord of seeking to hold back Bangladesh’s progress, when the reverse is true. As your government is well aware, the Accord came into being in response to the collapse of Rana Plaza, when it became evident to the world, and specifically to garment brands, that the safety of garment workers in Bangladesh could not be guaranteed,” the letter noted.
UNI secretary general Philip Jennings said, “The minister’s remarks are inaccurate and irresponsible. The Accord is a positive game changer for the Bangladeshi garment industry and his comments put at risk its future sustainability.”
The minister reportedly said since brands’ confidence in Bangladesh has been restored, the Accord should cease its operations, but many feel work to improve the sector there is far from done.
Earlier this month, a fire collapsed a 7-story Gazipur garment factory and in February, a blaze burned Rupganj spinning mill—fire safety is one of Bangladesh’s most prevalent issues.
Whether in favor of the Accord and Alliance or of the belief they aren’t working, the sector is still set to see its exports come in below target this year.
President of the Bangladesh Garment Exporters Association (BGMEA) Atiqul Islam said the company’s three-month political turmoil led to shipping setbacks and that garment exports for the period from July last year to May this year totaled $22.92 billion, short of the $24.26 billion target, leaving the country just the rest of this month to bring in $3.98 billion before the close of its fiscal year.
“It’s time to find out the root cause of our problems for the sustainability of the garment business and to achieve our $50 billion target by the end of 2021,” The Daily Star reported Islam as saying.
The Bangladesh government is expected to sit with members from the Accord and Alliance to discuss these concerns.