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My question comes just days after dozens of people were injured in a garment factory collapse and fire in Karachi, Pakistan – a country where the sign-on process for the International Accord factory safety initiative only started three months ago.

But factory collapses and fires are not limited to Bangladesh and Pakistan. At the end of 2022, two footwear factories in India caught fire in the space of a week.

So why are fashion brands and retailers still engaging factories that are unsafe? And why are we STILL fixated on the Rana Plaza disaster of ten years ago?

It’s unfortunate that when anyone talks of the Bangladesh apparel sector the first thing that comes to mind is Rana Plaza. Really, what we should be celebrating are the phenomenal improvements that have been made to the apparel manufacturing sector under the legally binding safety initiative The International Accord.

Factory improvements have included strengthening the structural integrity of factory buildings, the installation of fire doors, fire alarms, and enclosed staircases as well as addressing other occupational health and safety (OSH) issues like excessive working hours and gender-based violence and harassment through safety training at factories and a complaints mechanism for workers. 

Its implementation has seen nearly 56,000 fire, electrical, and building safety inspections at over 2,400 garment factories. Over 140,000 safety issues at these factories have been resolved, contributing to safer working conditions for workers.

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These are big results. And the benefit to clothing brands and retailers is huge: they get to communicate to their consumers that they truly are selling goods produced ethically with a safe workforce. That is priceless. So why are safety initiatives like this still limited to Bangladesh and only-just Pakistan?

Campaign groups are now urging brands to sign on to the International Accord, which currently only has 194 signatories. It shouldn’t be like this. Brands and retailers have a moral responsibility to sell clothing they are certain has been produced in a safe environment.

It’s time to end the culture of selling goods that have been produced cheaply in environments where people are risking their lives every day.

Brands and retailers must be at the forefront of signing agreements that guarantee worker safety and chomping at the bit to get them implemented in other major fashion-producer countries because I do, strongly believe, a day will come when consumers will walk away from brands that cannot commit to worker safety.

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