Bangladesh, according to some reports, remains far from ready to take over where the Accord on Fire and Building Safety left off on improving factories, despite its keenness to see the program cease operations.
A research report released Tuesday by the Accord claims incidences of extreme mismanagement and negligence by the Bangladeshi government’s factory safety inspection bodies. Backed by the Accord’s member organizations (which include the Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network and the Worker Rights Consortium), the report highlights a myriad of safety violations that are still putting factory workers at risk.
The Accord has had 1,688 Bangladeshi factories under its purview, and asserts that the government of Bangladesh has displayed a “shocking level of unreadiness” to take responsibility for factory workers’ safety.
The release of these damning assertions precedes a hearing set to take place Sunday in Bangladesh’s Appellate Court, which could determine the Accord’s ultimate fate in the country. The Bangladesh government has been pushing for an end to the Accord in line with the program’s 2018 expiration, which would require the group to close and vacate its Dhaka operations and hand over inspection and remediation authority to local agencies.
The program’s five year tenure, which began in 2013, technically ended last year. It was replaced by the 2018 Transition Accord, which was designed to carry forward the organization’s work through 2021. The Accord is reluctant to hand over the reins to Bangladeshi government agencies, which it feels are negligent at best, and, at worst, obstructive.
Transparency continues to be a pain point for the government bodies tasked with worker safety, with databases the Accord says fail to meet its expectations for clear and consistent information about garment factory remediation and follow-up inspections. The Bangladesh government asserts that required renovations have been well underway for some time, claiming that 29 percent have been completed. But a more thorough look at the government’s own databases reveals that most factories are still operating under unsafe conditions. Out of 400 factories for which information was made available, 346 have completed 20 percent of the mandated safety changes. Only two factories have completed more than that, and 52 factories under the government’s purview have no available safety information at all.
Though the local government has the power to shut down highly hazardous factory operations that could pose an immediate threat to worker safety, it hasn’t exercised that authority widely over the past five years, per the Accord’s report. In the early days of the Accord, the organization identified 114 factories it deemed “critically unsafe.” Today, half of those facilities remain open without assurances that the safety concerns have been addressed. All 745 factories in the government’s inspection program have failed to eliminate high-risk safety hazards, like lockable exits that could potentially trap workers inside a blazing building.
That scenario almost played out in early March, when a fire broke out at the Anzir Apparels factory in Dhaka, where eight workers were injured. The business had neglected to make requisite safety improvements after inspections in 2014 revealed the absence of a fire alarm, firefighting equipment and safe emergency exits.
There is concern among the Accord’s member bodies about whether workers feel comfortable reporting unsafe work conditions, since they are not guaranteed anonymity when they file complaints through the government’s complaint system. The theory is underscored by the fact that only 18 such complaints have been filed through the system since 2013. When compared with the 1,152 complaints that the Accord received from factory workers during the same time period, the difference is stark.
Despite the Bangladesh government’s overtures that the Accord’s oversight is no longer needed, brands, retailers and labor groups agree that the country’s national inspection and regulatory bodies are far from ready to take over the work.