Q&A Protect Progress Campaign
What is the #ProtectProgress campaign about?
The legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (“Bangladesh Accord”) between apparel brands and global trade unions has done very important work since the Rana Plaza collapse of 24 April 2013 to make factories safer for workers. The binding agreement holding brands to their promises under this programme expired on 31 May 2021.
Following intense campaigning and advocacy by civil society, trade unions, investors, and academics, the Bangladesh Accord agreement has been extended by three months, to allow the Accord union and brand signatories to conclude negotiations on a successor legally binding agreement on health and safety.
If the Accord agreement is not renewed, the safety of over two million workers in 1,600 garment factories currently covered by the Accord, will be left in the hands of a voluntary brand and industry-led initiative. Voluntary initiatives have in the past been unable to prevent mass casualties, and it is therefore completely irresponsible to fall back on trusting a non-enforceable initiative to prevent a new Tazreen fire or Rana Plaza collapse.
Brands must sign a new international binding agreement which should contain the possibility to expand the Accord model to other countries where garment workers are facing unsafe working conditions, similar to those in the pre-Rana Plaza situation in Bangladesh.
What exactly is the Bangladesh Accord?
The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was established shortly after the April 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse which killed at least 1134 garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 200 international brands and retailers are signatories to the Accord agreement, including H&M, Inditex (parent company of Zara), C&A and Primark. The Accord is a legally-binding agreement between brands and retailers and IndustriALL Global Union & UNI Global Union and eight of their Bangladeshi affiliated unions. Together, the parties have committed to the goal of a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi ready-made garment industry in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures. Over 1,600 garment factories are covered by the Accord programme.
What is at risk?
The current Bangladesh Accord agreement expires on 31st May 2021. This is a major concern, as the Accord is the only credible workplace safety initiative in the global garment industry, which since 2013 has demonstrably made over 1,600 garment factories safer workplaces for two million workers in Bangladesh.
The safety progress achieved in Bangladesh in the past eight years is in jeopardy. Without an international binding agreement to safeguard the binding nature of the Accord, the working conditions in the RMG industry will revert to the pre-Rana Plaza situation.
At the same time, unsafe working conditions continue to be the norm in other garment exporting countries. For example, textile and garment factories in Pakistan remain just as unsafe as they were in 2012, when a fire at Ali Enterprises factory (Karachi) killed over 250 workers. Not moving forward on a binding agreement, as promised, means denying these workers the most meaningful chance of making their factories safe in the immediate future.
What is the goal of this campaign?
Our campaign goal is that brands sign a new international legally binding agreement on health and safety. This will i) ensure that the brands’ commitments under the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh will continue to be enforceable by unions upon individual brands, and ii) will allow for new country addendums that will enable the Accord model to be expanded to other garment exporting countries, keeping workers across the garment industry safe. Only if all brands are held legally accountable to the same commitment to keep their factories safe will safety hazards in the workplace continue to be solved successfully. Brands must ensure a new safety agreement is binding upon all equally.
Why is the binding agreement so important?
The legally-binding nature of the Accord means that all Accord signatory companies are required to comply with the Accord’s provisions, including requiring their suppliers to participate in the inspection and remediation programme and ensuring that remediation at their suppliers is financially feasible. The shared commitment means that brands can effectively use their collective leverage to advance workplace safety. Moreover, it means that the Accord trade union signatories can start a procedure against non-compliant companies. Without the legally binding element of the Accord, there will be no consequences for brand non-compliance.
Why should an international binding agreement also apply to other countries?
In early 2020 the Accord Steering Committee expressed its intention to negotiate a global Accord agreement with a vision to expand the Accord to other countries. Recent workplace tragedies in North Africa, including 28 workers killed by electrocution in an illegal garment factory in Morocco in February 2021, 20 workers killed in a fire at a garment factory in Egypt in March 2021, and 8 people killed in a collapse later that month in the same country show the urgent need for brands to commit to a global legally binding safety agreement that will eventually allow for the use of this successful model to address workplace safety across all countries in their garment supply chain. If the brands do not extend the Accord programme to other garment exporting countries in their supply chains, they are denying their workers the right to a safe workplace.
If brands do not use the opportunity they have NOW to negotiate a global binding agreement on health and safety that expands the Accord model to other countries across their supply chain, it will be extremely difficult to establish such an impressive programme in the future.
Where can I find out more?
Want to know more? Find a more extensive Q&A here.
Prefer a PDF? You find that here.