Have working conditions for workers in the Bangladesh textile industry truly improved?
The renewance of the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile Industry and its impact on working conditions
‘The Accord’, an international accord between labour unions and fashion companies to ensure safety in clothing factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan, has been renewed for another six years. Some of the biggest brands in the fashion industry have signed this new accord, such as Hugo Boss, H&M, G-Star, C&A and Zara. But these signatories do not only include fashion companies, but also other companies such as Aldi, Lidl, Target and Trader Joe’s. This accord is the successor of the original Bangladesh Accord. The Bangladesh Accord was reached after the Rana Plaza collapse, the biggest disaster in the garment industry as of yet, now ten years ago. If you would like to know more, read one of our previous blogs which discusses the Bangladesh Accord and this event thoroughly.
What exactly does ‘The Accord’ entail? The International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile Industry (‘The Accord’ for short), is a legal agreement between labour unions and companies to ensure fire and building safety in factories in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, the signatories continue to ensure this safety in over 1400 factories which are involved in this accord. Additionally, the 175 companies associated with the accord committed to addressing other Human Rights Due Diligence Issues (HRDD) in the industry.
While the Bangladesh Accord only focused on ensuring workplace safety in Bangladesh, the new accord strives to expand to other countries where safety conditions in textile factories seek enhancement.
Pakistan was one of the four priority countries, which led to the implementation of a new workplace safety program. This ‘Pakistan Accord’ will be signed for a three-year period after which it will hopefully be renewed. The Pakistan Accord is not an independent accord, but an expansion program which was approved by the signatories of ‘The Accord’. However, it is needed to individually sign the Pakistan Accord to be bound to its regulations. Of the 200 garment brands who signed ‘The Accord’, currently only 80 brands also signed the Pakistan Accord.
The main focus of the Pakistan Accord is maintaining building safety through inspections, managing transparency and respecting freedom of association.
The building safety this accord seeks to ensure is linked to Occupational Health and Safety, one of the Fundamental Labour Rights of the ILO, officially recognized as such last year. You can read more about this in one of our previous blogs.
While The Accord improves the building safety rights in textile factories, other labour rights in the garment industry in Bangladesh are still being neglected. Recently, garment workers in Bangladesh protested against their minimum wage and demanded a fair raise, exercising their right to collective bargaining which is another one of the Fundamental Labour Rights of the ILO. After rejecting an offer made of an increasement of 50%, the unions finally accepted an offer of 56,25%, which still does not cover living costs. A salient detail is that the protesting garment workers work in the same factories that produce clothing for companies which are a party to ‘The Accord’, such as H&M and Zara.
The above shows once again that the ILO Core Labour Standards have not lost importance. They are not only the basis for protests against abuse, but also the inspiration for new initiatives for improvement, such as The Accord.