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Some of the World’s Biggest Brands Just Signed the Pakistan Accord

It’s official: Bestseller, C&A, H&M Group, Otto Group, Calvin Klein parent PVH Corp. and Zara owner Inditex have signed the Pakistan Accord, the first expansion of the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Garment Industry beyond Bangladesh’s borders.

Now they’re urging the rest of the industry to join its “collective commitment” to boost safety standards at supplier factories in the South Asian nation.

“The International Accord aims to protect the health and safety of millions of workers while helping the industry achieve sustainable growth in exports,” the brands—all of them members of the International Accord’s steering committee—wrote in a joint statement Monday. “With the signing of the Pakistan Accord and our brands’ commitment to this new safety program, we are renewing our commitment to a long-term sourcing relationship with Pakistan.”

Collectively, the International Accord’s 187 brand signatories source more than $2.6 billion worth of garments and textiles from Pakistan. Brands will have to sign up separately for the program, which opened on Jan. 16 for an interim term of three years.

“The Pakistan Accord provides an opportunity both to increase the visibility of the efforts already made by many manufacturers to invest in fire and building safety measures in recent years and deepen and expand them throughout Pakistan’s garment and textile sector, making it an increasingly attractive option for buyers across the globe,” the brands said.

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Like the International Accord—and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh that preceded it— the agreement is legally binding, meaning that signatories must abide by its mandates or face legal consequences for not doing so.

Ready-made factories aside, the Pakistan Accord also covers textile mills, though the latter will be phased in once the nature of the signatories’ business relationships with their supply chain partners becomes clearer.

The Pakistan Accord isn’t simply a cut-and-paste of the International or even Bangladesh Accord, said Felicity Tapsell, head of responsible sourcing at Bestseller, which counts the country among its top five sourcing destinations. Multi-stakeholder collaboration, based on the “specific context” of individual sourcing countries, is necessary to “secure occupational health and safety for all textile workers,” she said.

But the outlines are the same. Like the International Accord, Pakistan’s version will require independent safety inspections to identify, remediate and monitor fire, electrical, structural and boiler hazards. It will establish safety committee training and worker safety awareness programs, create an independent complaints mechanism and commit to local capacity-building. Transparency, as before, will be a central tenet.

“Workers learn how to protect themselves and make their jobs safer. They are given a voice and their rights are strengthened,” said Pablo von Waldenfels, director of corporate responsibility at Tchibo, which signed the Pakistan Accord last week. “This is a great success for our industry and all partners involved.”

The idea is for the International Accord’s steering committee to assume responsibility for the Pakistan Accord’s overall management until a national governance body consisting of industry, brands, trade unions and others can materialize. In 2020, for instance, the functions of the Accord Office in Bangladesh transitioned to the tripartite Ready-made Garment Sustainability Council, or RSC.

Pakistan bears the scars of its own Rana Plaza. Six months before the building collapse outside Dhaka killed 1,134 garment workers and injured thousands more in April 2013, a fire at a Karachi textile complex called Ali Enterprises claimed the lives of more than 250 employees. As with its Bangladeshi counterpart, auditors had just given the building a clean bill of health.

In the years since, voluntary auditing systems have continued to fail to protect the nation’s workers, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, which accused Bestseller, C&A, H&M Group and Inditex in September of “willfully obstructing” the Pakistan expansion with “delay after delay” on a solid deal, though the companies themselves dismissed the allegations.

In a survey of nearly 600 garment workers that the labor rights alliance commissioned in Pakistan in 2021, roughly 85 percent reported that they lacked access to properly enclosed stairwells that could deliver them to safety in the event of a fire. One-fifth of workers said that their workplace didn’t conduct fire drills or school them about emergency escape routes and exits.

Workers at factories producing for H&M Group and Bestseller reported explosions and exposure to electrical discharge and harmful substances, while others at H&M Group and Inditex suppliers said they witnessed fires at their workplace. A poisonous gas leak that killed four workers at a factory that sews jeans for H&M Group last January might have been prevented if the facility had a workers’ health and safety committee that operated in tandem with an International Accord-like health complaints mechanism, the Clean Clothes Campaign said.

KiK, the German discount chain that was Ali Enterprise’s primary customer, committed to a Pakistan Accord before it was unveiled on Dec. 14 by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with industry stakeholders, including representatives from labor unions and the Employers’ Federation of Pakistan the week before.

“This alliance has led to an entire industrial sector in a developing country being transformed from the ground up. Since the Accord was established, there have been no major disasters in the textile industry in Bangladesh. The aim of the Accord in Pakistan is to build on this successful model,” KiK CEO Patrick Zahn said at the time.

Now the biggest questions are how many other brands will follow suit and whether there is an appetite to develop comparable programs in countries similarly plagued by fires and other industrial disasters. Factory fires, risk-monitoring firm Resilinc reported last week, ranked No. 1 among the biggest supply chain disruptions of 2022 with 3,609 alerts and an 85 percent year-over-year increase.

“We are heartened that the groundbreaking Accord program will now come to Pakistan, where it is urgently needed. All brands sourcing from Pakistan should embrace this agreement,” Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign, said in December, when the Pakistan Accord was announced. “It is important to note that garment and textile workers in Pakistan had to wait a decade for this progress. We hope workers in other key garment-producing countries won’t have to wait as long.”