Goodbye, Bangladesh Accord. Hello, Ready-made Garment Sustainability Council.
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh ceded the last of its responsibilities this week, marking an end—if not the end—of a watershed agreement to hold brands and retailers legally responsible for ensuring the safety of the Bangladeshi workers who make their clothes.
Forged in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1,134 people and injured thousands more, the agreement forced more than 200 mostly European companies, including Adidas, C&A, H&M, Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing, Zara owner Inditex, Marks & Spencer and Primark, to come to grips with their culpability in the fashion supply chain’s myriad safety issues and human rights abuses.
The Accord, which was set to expire in five years, was extended in 2018 with a Transition Agreement that will be in effect until 2021.
The RSC, a “tripartite platform” of apparel makers, buyers and labor-rights groups, was officially registered in Bangladesh on May 20, 2020, to be a “permanent safety monitoring and compliance body in the RMG sector in Bangladesh,” the Accord noted in a press release. To “ensure that the safety progress achieved by the Accord since 2013 is sustained and potentially expanded,” the RSC has inherited all operations, staff and infrastructure of the local Bangladesh Accord office.
The RSC will continue with factory inspections, remediation monitoring and safety training at some 1,700 facilities supplying Accord signatories. These programs, the Accord said, will be “implemented in accordance with the protocols and procedures developed by the Accord, which have also been inherited by the RSC.”
The Accord’s work, though transformative for Bangladesh’s sector, is far from finished. As of April, 1,200 Accord-covered factories had completed more than 90 percent of the initial remediation, while 284 had achieved 100 percent remediation. But safety issues still abound: 1,341 factories, the Accord said, have yet to have install and verify fire alarm and detection systems; 1,111 factories have yet to install and verify their fire suppression systems; 930 factories have yet to implement and verify safe exit measures; and 427 factories have yet to complete structural remediation based on engineering assessments.
To meet these challenges, RSC will appoint a chief safety officer to lead inspection work “free of interference” from the RSC governing body. “The independence of the existing safety & health complaints mechanism that is available to workers in factories supplying to Accord signatory companies shall also be safeguarded under the RSC,” the Accord said.
While the RSC is now the organization implementing safety inspections and programs of the 2018 Transition Accord in Bangladesh, the Accord International Secretariat in Amsterdam will “cooperate with and support” the RSC to ensure that all provisions are “fully and adequately implemented.”
“The Accord company and union signatories are confident that the global companies, trade unions, and manufacturers governance model of the RSC will prove effective to ensure they collectively take responsibility for workplace safety in Bangladeshi RMG exporting factories,” the Accord noted. “The Accord signatories additionally recognize that to achieve and maintain safe workplaces requires the full participation of the workforce, sustainable purchasing practices, and strong accountability instruments.”
Nirapon, a monitoring body meant to supplant the duties of the rival—and non-legally binding—Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety after it disbanded in December 2018, will also be leaving Bangladesh after it lost its appeal against a court order banning it from representing the interests of more than 20 predominantly North American brands, including Abercrombie & Fitch, The Children’s Place, Gap, J. C. Penney, Target and Walmart.
The organization says it will “continue its focus on safety” while moving to a more streamlined organizational structure based in North America, where it will continue its oversight of 600 garment factories through a new third-party monitoring organization that it will announce at a later date.
The outgoing team has been provided with severance packages, Nirapon said. Moushumi Khan, the CEO since Nirapon’s inception, will be leaving the organization and a new chief safety officer will be appointed at a later date, “reflecting Nirapon’s more technical nature.” Until a new chief safety officer is identified, the Nirapon board will direct the group.
“Nirapon is committed to helping its members’ sourcing factories create a sustainable culture of safety,” the organization said in a statement. “We have made tremendous progress, and as we look to the future, we will have more impact with this new organizational structure by streamlining safety oversight, partnering with well-respected training providers, and maintaining our effective helpline.”