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February 14, 2019

Investors renew calls for continuation of the Bangladesh Accord

A group of 190 investors representing more than US$3trn in assets is urging the Bangladesh government not to abandon the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh until it is fully capable of continuing its work to ensure the safety of the more than 1,600 factories and 2m garment workers currently covered by the Accord.

By Beth Wright

A group of 190 investors representing more than US$3trn in assets is urging the Bangladesh government not to abandon the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh until it is fully capable of continuing its work to ensure the safety of the more than 1,600 factories and 2m garment workers currently covered by the Accord.

The appeal is in direct response to what the group calls the Bangladesh government’s submission to the Supreme Court regarding the Accord’s appeal against an order that it cease operating in Bangladesh from 30 November 2018. The Government has stated that the Accord should only be allowed to continue operations under a set of highly restrictive constraints that include prohibiting Accord inspectors from identifying any new safety violations in the factories, it says.

A decision on the future of the Accord has been pushed back five times, with a hearing now due to take place on Monday (18 February). 

The hearing was initially set to take place on 6 December but was pushed back to 10 December, then 17 December before being delayed until 21 January and now next week. 

While the group recognises significant progress has been made on worker safety measures, it says the Accord’s work is not completed and the government’s Remediation and Coordination Cell (RCC) does not yet have the capacity nor has it demonstrated the willingness to inspect factories to the same standards. A transition plan for factory inspections, safety trainings, and a worker complaint mechanism will need much more time and genuine engagement by the government, it adds.

The statement was organised by the Bangladesh Investor Initiative, a coalition of global investors from 12 countries set up following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building outside of Dhaka in 2013.

As shareholders in a number of the companies sourcing products from the Bangladesh garment sector, the investors are concerned that a premature closure of Accord operations in Bangladesh would be detrimental to the health and safety of garment workers and to brands that depend upon a secure, safe workforce.

“As investors, we are concerned that ending the work of the Accord would be too risky for Accord signatory companies to continue to source from unsafe factories lacking a credible and effective regulatory system,” the group said. “This situation would make it difficult for companies to exercise their responsibility to respect human rights through a ‘human rights due diligence’ process throughout their Bangladeshi supply chain, and for garment workers to be safe and secure.

“We believe the positive work done by the Accord companies and trade unions can be secured by staying the course until such time as the government of Bangladesh can fulfill its duty to protect the lives and livelihood of its workers.”

In the investor statement, and in a separate letter to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, investors advise sending “a strong signal of support” for allowing the Accord to continue to operate in Bangladesh without placing restrictions that would hinder its ability to implement its programme independently, and to provide sufficient time for a transition period to enable the development of the RCC in order to build capacity to regulate workplace safety.

“The Accord is an excellent example of human rights due diligence that addresses systemic fire and safety concerns in the garment sector and safeguards the lives of workers,” says David Schilling of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. “While the expectation has always been that the Government would eventually assume this responsibility, it does not yet have the full capacity necessary to do this without the Accord’s help. For this reason, we are appealing to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed to exercise patience and to keep the Accord in place until such time as it can safely pass its mantle to the Bangladeshi government.”  

Meanwhile, a similar joint statement has been released by the IndustriAll Global Union and UNI Global Union. 

The groups claim the Bangladesh Government is set to “throw away” the achievements of the Bangladesh Accord, and rather than negotiate a responsible handover of Accord functions, is intransigent in insisting that the Accord leaves Bangladesh by a fixed date, regardless of whether there is a competent safety authority to replace it.

“With no transparency and no verifiable assurance that the unprecedented level factory safety achieved by the Accord will be maintained, global brands sourcing from Bangladesh cannot take the risk of a return to conditions that led to the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013,” the unions say.

“After more than five years of intensive work and investment through the Accord, which has resulted in an unprecedented level of safety in Bangladesh garment factories, it is extraordinary that the Government is prepared to throw this away, to once again put the lives of its millions of garment workers in danger and to risk the reputation of the Bangladesh garment industry.”

The Accord was established in 2013 to address workplace safety in Bangladesh garment factories following the deaths of 1,134 workers in the Rana Plaza building collapse. Since then, the Accord has conducted close to 35,000 inspections of garment factories that are driving systemic reforms that both brands and investors say will significantly mitigate the risks of future safety lapses in the sector. 

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