IndustriAll and UNI say the decision sends a message brands cannot shirk their responsibility to worker safety

IndustriAll and UNI say the decision sends a message brands cannot shirk their responsibility to worker safety

Global unions have been given the green light to proceed to the next stage of arbitration in a case against two "leading" fashion brands for non-compliance with the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

The IndustriAll Global Union said the decision by an arbitral tribunal in The Hague was unanimous and "bolsters the legally-binding enforcement mechanisms of the Bangladesh Accord", which was launched in May 2013. It means complaints lodged by the unions can now proceed to the next stage of arbitration, where they will be judged on their merits.

The claims against the global brands include that they failed to require suppliers to remediate facilities within the mandatory deadlines imposed by the Accord, and failed to negotiate commercial terms to make it financially feasible for their suppliers to cover the costs of remediation.

IndustriAll says the cases represent the first tests of the Accord's "ground-breaking accountability structures".

"For any brand that isn't in compliance, this decision sends a message that they cannot shirk their responsibilities to worker safety," says Jenny Holdcroft, assistant general secretary of IndustriAll Global Union.

The legally-binding five-year Accord commits signatories to independent safety inspections with public reports on all their Bangladeshi suppliers, mandatory repairs and renovations, the obligation by brands to underwrite the costs of safety upgrades, and repercussions for suppliers that refuse to improve conditions including the termination of business. It also binds signatories to maintain sourcing volumes in Bangladesh for two years.

So far, the Accord's inspectors have completed fire and building safety reviews at 1,800 facilities which supply more than 200 signatory brands. Accord engineers have identified over 118,500 fire, electrical and structural hazards at these factories.

Nearly 80% of workplace dangers discovered in the Accord's original round of inspections have been remediated, and 500 Accord factories have completed 90% or more of the necessary fixes according to IndustriAll.

Christy Hoffman, deputy general secretary of Uni Global Union, adds: "The legally-binding nature of the Accord is a central pillar of its effectiveness, and this decision is a win for worker safety and for accountability in Bangladesh's garment industry."