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Bangladesh to Take Factory Inspections Into its Own Hands as US-Led Alliance Steps Aside

Bangladesh has long been clear that it would prefer to run its own factory inspections and remediations rather than let the foreign-led Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety continue on beyond 2018. Now, it seems, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), will form its own agency to undertake efforts similar to what the Accord and Alliance had been doing in the country.

The new agency, which according to Bangladesh local publication The Daily Star, will be called Shonman, meaning respect. The agency will be run by an ombudsman selected by the Prime Minister and have a steering committee comprised of members of the BGMEA, the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), the International Labour Organization, brands, trade unions and labor ministries.

Any major decisions would have to be consensus based, so neither the government or the BGMEA would have veto power. The government would be responsible for dealing with any technical task forces, case handlers and fire, electrical and safety engineers to coordinate remediations, which a Remediation Coordination Cell would manage.

In Shonman’s first phase from January to June 2018, factories under the National Action Plan, the Accord and the Alliance will be listed and the Remediation Coordination Cell would be designated to ensure these facilities make 85 percent of their remediation targets by the end of next year. In the second half of 2018, signatory buyers will be called on to help Shonman with third-party audit fees so that the organization can continue its independent factory verifications.

“We have not finalized everything yet. But terms and conditions are ready,” BGMEA president Siddiqur Rahman told The Daily Star.

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[Read more about what Bangladesh is doing to improve its garment sector: Bangladesh to Digitally Map Entire Garment Sector to Ensure Responsible Sourcing]

In March, the Accord announced its renewal, and the new agreement—which has already been signed by previous signatories including H&M, Inditex, Primark, C&A and Lidl, among others—will pick up where the first one left off and carry on the work of doing independent factory inspections and supporting remediation efforts. It will remain to be seen how the extended Accord and Shonman will work together.

The Alliance, however, which includes signatory brands like Macy’s, Target, Walmart and Gap, has said it won’t extend its tenure in Bangladesh beyond 2018.

In an email to the BGMEA, uncovered by the Financial Express, Alliance country director James F. Moriarty said, “We expect to complete our program on schedule at the end of five years in country. We may continue to work in country for a short period of time to ensure a smooth transition of our safety responsibilities to a Bangladesh-centered entity, but do not have any plans to stay on beyond the end of 2018.”

In its most recent update on factory progress, the Alliance said 26 more of its factories completed their corrective action plans for remediation, bringing the total to 118.

Moriarty said in a statement about the news earlier this month, “This past month’s success reinforces our confidence that Alliance factories will have substantially completed remediation and be well on the way to developing a sustainable culture of safety before the Alliance sunsets in 2018.”