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BGMEA Says Replacement for Bangladesh Accord and Alliance Won’t be Legally Binding

Just 18 months remain for the two in place safety initiatives that have been working to upgrade conditions in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment sector, and the country is looking to what’s next for keeping compliance in check.

With the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh set to complete their contracts in July 2018, Bangladesh has proposed Version 2.0 as a replacement.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said Version 2.0—which will include representation from the Bangladesh government, the International Labour Organization (ILO), trade unions and global brands—will have some differences.

For one, it won’t be legally binding.

Though the proposed initiative will retain some aspects covered by the Accord and Alliance, like the Sustainable Development Goals, according to New Age Bangladesh, the BGMEA wants to remove the terminology that stipulates what’s outlined in the agreement will be legally binding, but no reason has been given for the desire.

With Version 2.0, factory assessments would be done on an individual basis as opposed to by producer groups or for companies with multiple facilities, so that if one factory fails to remediate, others in the group wouldn’t be affected. Factory closures, worker compensation and penalties for factory owners will be governed by Bangladesh law under Version 2.0.

Buyers signing on to the Version 2.0 initiative will still pay annual dues as they do with the Accord and Alliance, but those dues will only be half of what they had been paying before, according to New Age. The reason for that, according to the BGMEA, is that the majority of remediations will have been completed by then, so only some follow up would be required by the time Version 2.0 is in place. From 2021, the initiative is expected to be self-financing and brands won’t be paying any dues at all.

The BGMEA said it will retain some Accord and Alliance auditors for structural, fire and electrical audits. Any new factories will have to pay for their inspections at a rate designated based on the square footage of their facilities.

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Discussions with the Bangladesh government are already underway for moving the strategy forward, and representatives from both the Alliance and Accord have been included in talks.

“The Alliance appreciated the proposed post-2018 strategy but there were reservations from IndustriALL Global Union and UNI global Union, which are signatories of the Accord,” a BGMEA representative told New Age.

The Accord hasn’t made a public statement on its thoughts about Version 2.0.

In its annual report released Tuesday, the Accord, looking at 2015, said it terminated its relationship with seven factories and that 54 percent of factories had made progress on remediations.

In its own quarterly media call last week, the Alliance said its efforts have fortified hundreds of factories, trained and empowered workers and saved lives.

Since it’s launch in 2013, the Alliance said 58 of the factories it has inspected have completed corrective action plans, and 69 percent of all repairs required by the Alliance have been completed. Sixty-one percent of high priority repairs like structural retrofitting and fire door installation have been completed. As part of its no-tolerance policy for factories not making sufficient remediation progress, the Alliance has suspended 127 factories, but reinstated three that got back on track.

“I want to be clear that much work lies ahead for the Alliance over the next 18 months,” Alliance country director James F. Moriarty said. “Bangladesh continues to feature a politically charged environment in which civil unrest and labor strikes are common, and terrorism and natural disasters also pose an ever-present risk. We cannot project these challenges will lessen in the coming months and years.”

The Alliance, however, will continue its efforts through the end of the initiative just as it has throughout.

“Working out a successful transition to a post-Alliance future will be key for the future of all member companies in Bangladesh,” Moriarty said.