UNI Global Union and IndustriAll Global Union, the labour signatories of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, have given notice to withdraw from the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) on 1 June.
The national RSC was set up last year to take over the technical responsibilities of the Accord, whose remit finishes at the end of the month.
While there have been discussions to renegotiate the Accord, nothing has yet been agreed or signed. Unions and industry organisations have been calling on brands to sign a global agreement that will take the work of the Accord into the future and remove any risk of a return to self-monitoring.
The withdrawal of IndustriAll and UNI Global Union means they will no longer be part of the RSC and its board of directors – "stripping away any credibility of the RSC as an effective worker safety organisation," they say.
The RSC was created by the Accord through negotiations with the Bangladeshi garment industry in order to include factory owners as stakeholders, with the understanding of a new legally-binding agreement between unions and brands to succeed the Accord, according to IndustriAll.
The global unions say they cannot accept replacing the "extremely effective" Accord model with an alternative proposal from brands derived from the "failed approaches of the decades prior to the Rana Plaza industrial homicide".
In recent months, global apparel brands have insisted upon a new framework for the future which discards the key elements that have led to the Accord's success in making garment factories in Bangladesh safe for workers, for example, individual brand accountability and independent monitoring of the brands.
"The Accord and the independent secretariat empowered to report on brand performance, and more recently through the cooperation agreement with the RSC, have successfully prevented the loss of lives during the last eight years," says IndustriAll Global Union general secretary Valter Sanches. "The brands' proposal of self-monitoring is a dangerous step backwards and undermines the credibility of the programme. It will have immediate consequences for the safety of millions of workers in the brands' supply chains."
UNI Global Union general secretary, Christy Hoffman, adds: "Instead of bargaining over the next phase of our joint safety work in Bangladesh, the brands have pursued an 'Accord Exit' strategy designed to write away any meaningful role for unions in the future. We can't be a rubber stamp for an industry-brand partnership without real accountability and robust oversight. This is a time when we should be moving forward and building on progress, not going in reverse."
The Accord model has been widely cited as unparalleled in its success and in its consistency with UN Guiding Principles, OECD guidelines, and the tenets of credible supply chain responsibility and business and human rights obligations.
At a recent panel discussion hosted by the Clean Clothes Campaign and facilitated by the Worker Rights Consortium, speakers raised serious concerns for garment workers if another agreement is not signed soon.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), however, has said the RSC and the Bangladesh Government are more than capable of ensuring the highest standards of monitoring and inspections.
This article was first published by the IndustriAll global union.