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Bangladesh Sourcing Threatened as Accord Efforts Wrap Amid Lingering Factory Issues

The safety of sourcing in Bangladesh may be at risk without a fully-functioning regulatory body in place to monitor the condition of factories there.

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which has been inspecting factories and overseeing remediations, is set to shutter at the end of this week.

Bangladesh had sought to oust the Accord—a group formed in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse to ensure safety in the country’s ready-made garment sector—at the end of its five-year term in May, in favor of its own national regulatory body, the Remediation Coordination Cell. The Accord, however, has argued that the newly formed body isn’t yet ready for the handover.

Because Accord factories, which make product for agreement signatories including Inditex, H&M, Fast Retailing, Adidas and C&A, were only about 85 percent remediated when the program officially expired in May, more than 100 brands signed onto a Transition Accord on June 1, 2018 to extend the group’s efforts through November 2021.

However, amid feelings that the Accord’s work was done and the Remediation Coordination Cell could take it from here, a High Court in Bangladesh in May ordered the program to shut down by Nov. 30. That means the Accord will no longer be able to maintain an office in Bangladesh, nor will it be able to inspect any factories.

The Accord said in its five-year tenure that it has inspected more than 1,800 factories and identified more than 118,500 safety issues related to lack of fire safety, structural concerns and electrical issues. In its latest quarterly progress report out in April, the Accord said 84 percent of factory safety issues it identified in initial inspections have been reported or verified as having been fixed.

“Remediation is close to completion at 767 Accord factories which have completed more than 90 percent of the remediation. 142 factories have completed all remediation from initial inspections, out of which 14 factories have remediated all the issues, including the new findings,” the Accord said at the time.

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As of a November update on its site, the Accord noted that 90 percent of remediations for safety issues have been completed. Ninety-seven percent of Accord factories have removed lockable and collapsible gates, and 90 percent have adequate lighting in fire exists, but just 45 percent have installed fire detection and prevention systems.

While progress has been made, there are concerns that without ongoing inspection and regulation, as the Accord had seen to, factory conditions in Bangladesh could reach sub-standard levels and buyers less confident in the safety of the industry there may look to end relations with suppliers in the country.

Speaking on the state of Bangladesh’s Remediation Coordination Cell, which is expected to take over these inspection efforts, Accord executive director Rob Wayss told Reuters, “It’s in its infancy, they have just hired their staff, they really don’t have their systems in place, their engineers need a lot of additional training just like ours did,” adding that safety fixes and more than 500 of the factories under the Accord remain incomplete.

The Accord has submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court in Bangladesh to halt the High Court’s May judgement that would see shuttered the office where the Accord currently meets with suppliers to review designs and offer feedback. If the appeal isn’t successful, Wayss told Reuters the Accord would move its office to Amsterdam to see out the Transition Accord through 2021.

The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a similar, albeit not legally-binding commitment to improving safety in Bangladesh, will withdraw its operations from the country at the end of this month.