What is the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh?

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (2013) is a comprehensive and independent agreement designed to make all garment factories in Bangladesh safe workplaces.

The agreement was designed by Bangladeshi and international unions together with other labour groups, making it unique in being supported by all key labour rights stakeholders, and signed by over 150 international brands and retailers, who agree upon a 5 year commitment to invest in safer factories.

The Accord is transparent as well as practical, the programme includes independent inspections by trained fire safety experts, public reporting, mandatory repairs and renovations financed by brands, a central role for workers and unions in both oversight and implementation, supplier contracts with sufficient financing and adequate pricing, and a binding contract to make these commitments enforceable.

You can read the complete document here.

Who signed the Accord?

Over 150 international brands and retailers: find a full list of companies here;

Global unions: IndustriALL Global Union & UNI Global Union;

Local unions: unions belonging to IndustriALL Bangladesh, including the National Garments Workers Federation (NGWF), Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF), plus the Bangladesh Independent Garments Workers Federation (BIGWF) and Bangladesh Revolutionary Garment Workers Federation (BRGWF);

NGOs who signed the Accord as witnesses: Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, International Labor Rights Forum, Workers Rights Consortium;

The International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN specialized agency, has agreed to act as an independent chair to the steering committee.

Why does the Accord focus on Bangladesh only?

Bangladesh has a long history of health and safety tragedies, such as garment factory fires and collapses, killing at least 1800 workers since 2005. The Accord is a programme which is specially developed for the specific situation in Bangladesh, based on many cases picked up by the organisations setting up the Accord.

However the parties recognize that workers in other countries are not working in safe conditions either. Therefore we believe that the principles and implementations of the Accord should serve as examples to develop instruments focusing on safety and other labour rights issues in other garment producing countries as well.

Should companies stop sourcing from Bangladesh?

No. Companies should not abandon ship and move their production to other countries, where working conditions are just as bad (or worse) as in Bangladesh. Instead of leaving the Bangladeshi workers out in the cold, after receiving huge profits for years from the worker’s hard labour, brands and retailers should take their responsibility for safe working conditions and commit to the Accord of Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

Who pays for building improvement?

The brands are responsible for improving safety conditions in their production units. How these improvements are financed is the responsibility of the brand: it either negotiates with its supplier, loans money or pays for the improvements itself for instance. Section 22 of the Accord reads: “In order to induce factories to comply with upgrade and remediation requirements of the program, participating brands and retailers will negotiate commercial terms with their suppliers which ensure that it is financially feasible for the factories to maintain safe workplaces and comply with upgrade and remediation requirements instituted by the Safety Inspector. Each signatory company may, at its option, use alternative means to ensure factories have the financial capacity to comply with remediation requirements, including but not limited to joint investments, providing loans, accessing donor or government support, through offering business incentives or through paying for renovations directly.”

Will there be a list of all the factories involved in Bangladesh?

Yes. There is a full list of all factories producing for the brands and retailers in Bangladesh, including sub-contractors. However, it is an aggregate list, which means it will not show which factory is a supplier to what company. Section 19A of the Accord reads that the Steering Committee will make publicly available “ a single aggregated list of all suppliers in Bangladesh (including sub-contractors) used by the signatory companies, based on data which shall be provided to the SC and regularly updated by each of the signatory companies […], however volume data and information linking specific companies to specific factories will be kept confidential ”.

You can find the reports here.

Will inspection reports be made public?

Yes. The reports of the Safety Inspector, including recommendations that should be implemented by the brand or retailer, will be made public a maximum of six weeks after the inspection. The stakeholders of the factory are informed at least 2 weeks after the inspection, except in the event of a immediate danger, when they are informed immediately. Paragraph 11 of the Accord reads: “ Written Inspection Reports of all factories inspected under the programme shall be prepared by the Safety Inspector within two (2) weeks of the date of inspection and shared upon completion with factory management, the factory’s health and safety committee, worker representatives (where one or more unions are present), signatory companies and the SC [nb. Steering Committee]. […] Within a timeline agreed by the SC, but no greater than six weeks, the Safety Inspector shall disclose the Inspection Report to the public, accompanied by the factory’s remediation plan, if any. In the event that, in the opinion of the Safety Inspector, the inspection identifies a severe and imminent danger to worker safety, he or she shall immediately inform factory management, the factory’s health and safety committee, worker representatives (where one or more unions are present), the Steering Committee and unions which are signatories to this Agreement, and direct a remediation plan. ”

You can find the reports here.

Who will provide credible worker training?

The Steering Committee (SC) will appoint a Training Coordinator who will closely work together with trade unions and local experts. Section 16 of the Accord states: “ The Training Coordinator appointed by the SC shall establish an extensive fire and building safety training program. The training program shall be delivered by a selected skilled personnel by the Training Coordinator at Tier 1 facilities for workers, managers and security staff to be delivered with involvement of trade unions and specialized local experts. These training programmes shall cover basic safety procedures and precautions, as well as enable workers to voice concerns and actively participate in activities to ensure their own safety. Signatory companies shall require their suppliers to provide access to their factories to training teams designated by the Training Coordinator that include safety training experts as well as qualified union representatives to provide safety training to workers and management on a regular basis.

Won’t workers lose their jobs in the event of renovations?

No. Workers will remain employed and paid by the factory for a maximum of 6 months. When the factory is too unsafe to function as a production site, or when there is a loss of orders, the brands have to make efforts to help the workers find employment elsewhere. Paragraph 13 of the Accord states: “ Signatory companies shall require their supplier factories that are inspected under the Program to maintain workers’ employment relationship and regular income during any period that a factory (or portion of a factory) is closed for renovations necessary to complete such Corrective Actions for a period of no longer than six months “. Paragraph 14 adds: “Signatory companies shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that any workers whose employment is terminated as a result of any loss of orders at a factory are offered employment with safe suppliers, if necessary by actively working with other suppliers to provide hiring preferences to these workers. ”

How many factories are involved?

At present over 1600 suppliers are covered by the agreement. The involved parties have the ambition to cover all suppliers in Bangladesh, and design the plans for implementation and governance in a way that this huge effort is realistic.

You can find a full updated list of factories here.

Will the Accord make an end to multiple inspections?

Yes. The current inspection reports conducted by companies and/or audit firms will be used and by and become part of the portfolio of the newly recruited Safety Inspector. But the safety inspections are only conducted once. This means that all brands sourcing from the same factory don’t conduct the same inspection over and over again. The Safety Inspector determines whether the engineering firm or other inspection entity meets the quality required., , , ,

What’s the legal status of the Accord?

A unique aspect of the Accord of Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is its legal enforcement. Section 5 of the Accord explicitly outlines the process of dispute resolution, in which the outcomes can be reinforced in the court of law. This feature is unique because previously established initiatives involving corporate accountability and labour rights are basically voluntary commitments. Many US companies refuse to sign the Accord based on this legal enforceability, fearing lawsuits. However, in essence the Accord’s legal obligations do not differ much from other business contracts companies routinely close. The fact that over 150 prominent internationally operating companies from Europe and the United States did sign the Accord confirms this position.

Please read a briefing paper by the US-based Worker Rights Consortium about the legal nature of the Accord: The Bangladesh Breakthrough: Making Global Corporations’ Labor Rights Commitments Legally Enforceable.

How much does the Accord cost?

There are two categories of costs for signatory companies under the Accord: administration and safety improvements.

1) Administration. Costs associated with the administration of inspections, training and other program operations, the formula for which is based on annual Bangladesh volume on a sliding scale relative to the annual volume of other signatories.

2) Safety Improvements. Brand signatories are responsible to ensure that sufficient funds are available to pay for renovations and other safety improvements as directed by the Safety Inspector. Such funds may be generated through negotiated commercial terms, joint investment, direct payment for improvements, government and other donor support or any combination of these mechanisms.

What is the difference between the Accord and Gap / Walmart driven Safer Factory Initiative?

Walmart, Gap and the corporations that have chosen to join them, are unwilling to commit to the Accord, a programme under which they have to keep the promises they make to workers and accept financial responsibility for ensuring that their factories are made safe. Instead, they have developed The Safer Factory Initiative. It is designed to keep business as usual: Their scheme preserves the very model that has failed workers for years and failed to prevent nearly two thousand deaths.

Our concerns regarding the content of the Walmart / Gap scheme:

  • This is a company-developed and company-controlled scheme. Worker representatives are not part of the agreement and have no role whatsoever in its governance.
  • Brands and retailers are not obligated to pay one cent toward the renovation and repair of their factories in Bangladesh and it does nothing to prevent buyers from setting ever-lower prices even if these make it financially impossible for factories to improve conditions.
  • Brands and retailers control the factory inspections. The supposed check on these inspections will be a “spot check” system, which will consist exclusively of corporations checking on the inspections of other corporations.
  • Few obligations are imposed on members of the scheme – any company can walk away whenever it wants.
  • Members are only accountable to themselves if they fail to deliver on their promises. It has no worker representative signatories, which means there is no-one involved with an interest in making sure it is enforced.
  • There is no mention of the right of workers to refuse dangerous work, leaving factory managers free to bully workers into dangerous buildings, like their counterparts did at Rana Plaza.