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Fate of Bangladesh Factory Safety Remains in Limbo Amid Accord Transition

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was set to cease operations in the country on Nov. 30. And then Dec. 10. And now it’s Dec. 17.

The fate of the Accord’s tenure in the Bangladesh apparel industry is uncertain at best.

A High Court in Bangladesh issued an order in May stipulating the Accord’s exit by Nov. 30, which would have required the Accord to cease its safety-focused operations and stop inspecting factories. Following an appeal from the Accord, which was hoping to see its efforts through to a more stable transition period, the Bangladesh government only wants the Accord to continue operations under a set of obstructive constraints.

“The government’s conditions, if accepted by the Supreme Court, would destroy the independence of the Accord by subjecting all Accord decisions to the approval of a government committee,” a statement from the UNI global union, undersigned by other worker rights organizations including IndustriALL Global Union and the Clean Clothes Campaign said Monday. “Another condition prohibits Accord inspectors from identifying any new safety violations, effectively requiring them to ignore deadly hazards found during their inspections, such as faulty alarm systems, blocked fire exits, and cracks in structural columns. Yet another prevents the Accord from taking any action against factory owners who threaten or fire workers for raising safety complaints.”

The Accord has since responded to the constraints at a hearing on Dec. 6, and the Bangladesh government will allow the organization to operate until it makes a decision regarding next steps, which is expected on Dec. 17.

Since the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 people and cast a dim pallor over the conditions in the Southeast Asian nation’s ready-made garment sector, the Accord has been inspecting factories and overseeing remediations in the country in order to improve conditions at the facilities making product for Accord signatory brands, like Inditex and H&M.

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Now that the Accord’s initial five-year tenure is up and the Bangladesh government has decided its own Remediation Coordination Cell can take over the Accord’s activities, it wants to show the organization out.

There’s been backlash, however, surrounding the Remediation Coordination Cell’s fitness to assume the efforts, as the recently formed government body remains in its infancy, with new staff and newly in place systems.

The Accord said last month that it has overseen the completion of 90 percent of remediations for safety issues at its member factories, but with just 45 percent of factories having installed fire detection systems, for example, work remains to be done.

“If the government of Bangladesh does not urgently lift these constraints, in order to preserve the standard and independence of its operations, the Accord will have no other choice than to continue to operate from its Amsterdam headquarters, re-locating management of its inspection, remediation and training programs and engaging subcontractors for implementation,” the unions said. “This will necessarily have implications for its capacity to support factories in remediation, leading to brands having to terminate their business relationships with more factories that are still not safe.”