In what is being hailed as an historic move, German discount retailer Kik has created its own version of the International Accord for Safety and Health in the Textile and Garment Industry to protect garment workers in the South Asian nation.
The agreement between stakeholders from the textile industry and worker groups was signed in Karachi last week as a commitment to greater worker safety in the garment-producing nation.
This organization will provide training to workers, as well as empower them to file complaints for non-implementation of safety rules.
The move comes 10 years after 255 workers were killed in a deadly fire at Ali Enterprises, a manufacturer of denim, knitted garments and hosiery, and a supplier to Kik.
On Sept. 12, workers and families commemorated their lost loved ones by lighting lamps and carrying photos of those who perished in the industrial accident, while urging global brands to commit to responsible sourcing.
In the years since, Kik has committed more than $6 million for relief and compensation. Karamat Ali, executive director, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER,) said that $1 million was received as immediate relief and later $5.15 million was assigned as long-term compensation for the families of the victims.
Signing the memorandum of understanding with local stakeholders, Kik CEO Patrick Zahn asked factory owners, unions and brands and retailers involved to “put aside their own interests to bring about a rapid and comprehensive solution in the interests of thousands of garment workers.”
Looking ahead, the favored model seems to be based on the experience of Bangladesh where global retailers came together to ensure worker safety after the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013, in which more than 1,130 workers were killed and many more maimed. Global brands and retailers signed on to two major initiatives—the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.
The Bangladesh Accord for Worker Safety that included more than 200 brands continued in the country for five years, with a three-year extension, evolved into the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry—still a legally binding agreement between companies and trade unions. Signatories include Uniqlo, H&M, Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger, among others.
In Bangladesh, the agreement is being implemented by the independent national tri-partite RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) consisting of brands, unions and industry leaders, and sourcing from 1,449 factories in Bangladesh, which employs around 2.2 million workers.
“Seeing the best results of the international accord in Bangladesh, an agreement of this type has been made with the industrial sector of Pakistan, which is an independent and legal agreement with Pakistan’s textile industry and trade associations. Its aim is to make Pakistan’s textile and garment industry safe, socially responsible, and strong,” Zahn said. Over the past five years, Kik has been working to provide fire protection to industrial units and secure electrical installations and infrastructure in Pakistan.
“I appeal to all those involved to now quickly clear the way. With the planned safety training, grievance mechanisms and health committees, we can reach over one million textile workers in 700 factories,” Zahn said.
German ambassador Ruediger Lotz described Kik’s safety agreement as “an important milestone that will help speed up development of Pakistan’s textile and garment sector and ensure the safety of workers associated with the industry.”
Reacting to the agreement, Yoris Oldenziel, executive director at the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, took to Twitter to thank the retailer for “supporting the work of the International Accord and our feasibility study on potential expansion to Pakistan. We look forward to working with you to implement the Accord workplace programs in Pakistan as soon as the final decision is made.”
Key new features of the International Accord include a commitment to expand its work based on feasibility studies, an optional streamlined arbitration process to enforce the Accord’s terms, a continued commitment to focus on the health and safety program in Bangladesh, and on building a credible industry-wide compliance and accountability mechanism, etc.
The idea has been finding support in Pakistan over the few past years, with representatives of trade unions and federations discussing the need for brands to sign a Pakistan Accord.
Industry analysts said that this was particularly important in light of concerns that apparel exports from Pakistan will be impacted heavily next year, as the GSP+ scheme with the European Union will come to an end on Dec. 31, 2023.
This scheme gives the country preferential tariffs with reduced or zero import duties for certain sectors. The country also faces an impending cotton shortage after devastating floods that damaged more than 30 percent of crops.
The Pakistan textile and garment industry had a growth of 25.5 percent in fiscal 2021-22 which ended June 30 at $19.32 billion.
KiK, which stands for Kunde ist König, or Customer is King, has more than 4,000 stores across Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Poland, the Netherlands, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal and Spain.