“We are committed to a safe and secure industry for our workers," says the BGMEA

“We are committed to a safe and secure industry for our workers," says the BGMEA

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) says the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), which was set up to continue the achievements of the Accord on workplace safety, and the Bangladesh Government, is more than capable of ensuring the highest standards of monitoring and inspections.

After an initial five-year term, the remit of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was extended until the end of May 2021. Its technical responsibilities transitioned to the national RSC last year, a permanent national safety monitoring and compliance body for the sector. It comprises 18 board members, six of which are from the industry, six brands, and six from global trade unions and local affiliates.

There are efforts to renegotiate the Accord to extend and expand its obligations beyond 2021 – and maybe beyond Bangladesh – but nothing concrete has yet been agreed.

However, the newly-appointed president of the BGMEA Faruque Hassan says any other extension or new Accord will not be recognised and will not be a part of any initiative related to Bangladesh safety going forward.

"The BGMEA has the greatest respect for the global trade unions and their affiliates. At the same time we, from the industry side, strongly stand by the principles on which the RSC was founded. It is a national initiative with global standards. It is not going to be commanded by any external authority. The Accord expired in 2018 and there has been no accepted extension. We do not recognise the transition Accord and neither does the Government of Bangladesh, which will expire on 31 May 2021.

"RSC, and the government body called Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), are perfectly capable of ensuring highest standard monitoring, inspections and certifications of health, safety and securities of the workers of Bangladesh RMG factories."

Hassan, commenting in response to an article published by The Guardian last week entitled 'Bangladesh clothing factory safety deal in danger, warn unions', emphasises that since the RSC took over in September last year, it has completed 1,821 inspections in 904 factories. It has also conducted "ICU Deep Dive" in 202 factories. He adds that during the pandemic, and without the full resources of the Accord, the RSC performed 75 factory certifications independently. This compares with 280 during seven years of the Accord.

"Accord hardly made much progress in 2018-2019, and slowed down the process of remediation and successful completion of remediation with certification due to bureaucratic red-tape and miss-management," Hassan says. "But since RSC picked up steam, the progress is visible and is endorsed and appreciated by the brands, and RSC is fully committed to further strengthening its inspection programme and expedite inspections based on global standards and the identified priorities."

The article published by The Guardian cites unions as saying the future of a landmark deal to improve safety at clothing factories in Bangladesh is in doubt. Unions are reportedly concerned because the RSC deal does not include legally binding commitments under which individual brands must ensure the factories they use are up to scratch, helping to fund any improvements required to make them safe.

The UNI Global Union told the publication that unless unions can agree extension of the Accord's legally binding terms they will have no way to push through the "potentially life-saving but difficult and expensive changes" that are still required at factories.

In response to the article, Hassan says the BGMEA was "extremely disappointed to see that global trade unions, the witness signatory of the former Accord and their affiliated parties, have been spreading misinformation and maligning the role of BGMEA in the tripartite organisation of the RSC."

"We are committed to a safe and secure industry for our workers, for the owners and for the brands who are sourcing from Bangladesh. Needless to mention that workplace safety and worker well-being is a supreme consideration for us. The industry has made tremendous strides in these areas as well as in sustainability in past years with tremendous zeal and resilience of the Bangladesh manufacturers, with the support of the government of Bangladesh, global brands and retailers and development partners, particularly ILO."

Hassan says Bangladesh can now boast 138 LEED green factories, 39 of which are Platinum, certified by the United States Green Building Council. 13 of the top 20 ranking LEED certified factories around the world are located in Bangladesh, and 500 more factories have registered for certification.

"In past four decades the apparel industry in Bangladesh has grown in capacity, turnover and employment," Hassan added. "The RSC has already laid a significant stepping stone in building Bangladesh's own capacity to transparently and credibly take care of the safety of its own industries with highest standard. We strongly condemn the seemingly orchestrated attempts to hinder the progress we have made in monitoring of our industrial safety, security, sustainability and workplace complaint mechanism."

The Accord did not return a request for comment.