Nov 23
Accord, RMG Makers At Loggerheads PDF Print E-mail

 

By Ziaur Rahman

 

The country’s readymade garment (RMG) industry that changed lives of millions of people has been undergoing though significant transformation in terms of remediation. The government, entrepreneurs, brands and retailers are working hand in hand to transform the country’s RMG industry into a world class apparel hub.

European brands and buyers formed the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety while North American brands and buyers initiated a platform namely the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and National Tripartite Action Plan for Building and Fire Safety was adopted by the government to ensure workplace safety in RMG industry.

Accord, Alliance and NAP completed inspection of around 3600 factories, of them only around 1 percent were found vulnerable and shut down immediately. All the three inspection agencies apply different codes in inspection, and as a result, many owners face challenges in remedying their factories. Currently, the Accord and the Alliance are trying to extend their tenure.

But Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (GBMEA), the apex body of the country’s apparel exporters, seems not to be happy over activities of Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety as their activities are ostensibly conflicting with the existing rules of the country. The BGMEA plans to draw the government’s attention to the activities of both the platforms of western buyers.

Meanwhile, extension of the tenure of Accord for the second phase without holding discussion with the stakeholders made them, especially the government, BGMEA and BKMEA unhappy and annoyed.

The government expressed its disapproval of the global apparel brands' latest decision to extend the Accord's tenure by three more years, calling upon them for holding discussion with the stakeholders before taking any such decision. The displeasure was vented at an emergency meeting of two ministers –Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed and Law minister Anisul Huq – with foreign diplomats in Dhaka and in presence of leaders of the local apparel makers.

Accord gets 3-year extension in Bangladesh

Meanwhile, the global apparel brands along with global trade unions are going to join a new Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh for three more years to ensure safe jobs in the clothing industry.

The Accord in a statement issued on July 2 said that companies and global unions have agreed on a 2nd Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The agreement came into effect when the current Accord expires in May 2018.

It pointed out that the Accord is an unprecedented, legally binding agreement between companies and trade unions to make factories in Bangladesh safe.

Until June 30, some 16 brands and retailers like H&M, C&A, Loblaw, Primark, Inditex, PVH, Kmart Australia and Target Australia signed the new agreement 'The 2018  Bangladesh Accord' by UNI Global Union and IndustriAll Global Union and it was announced in the OECD  held on June 29 in Paris.

At the OECD Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct in Paris on June 29 the EU retailers and global trade unions announced the extension of the agreement on Accord for second term saying that the agreement will enter into effect when the current Accord expires in May 2018. In an e-mail, the Accord steering committee informed the BGMEA about the new deal.

The new Accord will continue another three years. This three-year agreement builds on the achievements of the first Bangladesh Accord signed in May 2013 in response to the Rana Plaza building collapse.

The new agreement promises independent, expert building safety inspections for three more years to all covered factories, ensuring that safety improvements achieved under the first Accord and new problems will be identified and addressed, according to the statement.

Extension of the agreement also guaranteed that hundreds of additional factories will be inspected and renovated, as signatory brands add new suppliers.

“The new agreement demonstrates that international brands and global trade unions recognise the positive impact of the Accord and the need for the Accord to continue its work in Bangladesh to ensure that factories are made safe and stay safe”, says Rob Wayss, Executive Director and Acting Chief Safety Inspector of the Accord.

The Accord and its trade union, company, and NGO witness signatories will intensify our constructive work with factory owners, the Government of Bangladesh, BGMEA and BKMEA, the International Labour Organisation and donor governments and their relevant programs and initiatives.

The Accord encourages all companies sourcing from Bangladesh to sign the renewed Accord and join our collective goal of safe and sustainable RMG and related industries.

As per Accord statement, the RMG factories covered under the current Accord have made significant progress with safety remediation over the past four years. In this final year of the current Accord, the focus is on completing all outstanding key safety measures such as structural retrofitting, installation of fire alarm and fire protection systems and protected fire exits, and the continued delivery of the Safety Committee training program.

 

Accord's extension unexpected: Tofail

In the meantime, both government and apparel manufacturers expressed their deep discontent over the unilateral decision made by the EU brands and retailers to extend the presence of Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh by another three years.

Commerce minister Tofail Ahmed and law minister Anisul Huq at an emergency meeting with the partners of Sustainability Compact at the Bangladesh Secretariat early of July made clear the government’s position on the matter.

At the meeting, the commerce minister said that the extension of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh by three more years was unexpected as the decision was taken unilaterally by the trade unions, retailers and global brands.

“It was not expected that retailers will impose any unilateral decision on a sovereign country, rather the Accord should place a proposal for extending its agreement in the country,” said Commerce minister Tofail Ahmed.

“The signatories could have discussed it with the stakeholders before taking such an important decision,” Tofail told journalists at his secretariat office in Dhaka after a meeting with garment manufacturers and top diplomats. The accord's signatories, the minister said, could have sent a proposal to the government. “I asked the diplomats to send the extension of the accord as a proposal. We will discuss the proposal and then take the decision,” said Ahmed.

Head of delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh Pierre Mayaudon, the US ambassador Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, Canadian high commissioner in Dhaka Benoit-Pierre Laramee, Netherlands ambassador Leoni Margaretha Cuelenaere, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry president Md Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Md Siddiqur Rahman and acting commerce secretary Shubhashish Bose, among others, were present at the meeting.

Following the meeting, Tofail Ahmed told reporters that they expressed their dissatisfaction over the latest move of the Accord and urged the ambassadors to convey the message of the government of Bangladesh to the governments of their respective countries.

If the Accord wants to work after 2018, they can send a proposal in this regard for the government’s consideration as Bangladesh is a sovereign country, he said. The BGMEA president Siddiqur Rahman said that the unilateral decision could not be the sign of partnership. Without consultation with stakeholders, the Accord cannot extend its timeframe, he said.

BGMEA seeks government intervention

After getting letter from the Accord on new agreement, the BGMEA opposed the unilateral decision of the retailers’ platform saying that the association has been working closely with the platform for four years and were certain that none would move forward without consultation with the relevant stakeholders in Bangladesh including the manufacturers and the government.

The country's apparel makers at a meeting on July 8 strongly opposed the unilateral extension of the Accord by three more years by the global brands and trade unions.

They decided to convene an emergency general meeting by this month to mobilise opinion from the member factories of BGMEA and decided to seek government intervention over the unilateral extension of the Accord in Bangladesh so that the platform cannot continue for an indefinite period in Bangladesh.

The board members and former leaders of BGMEA unanimously took the decisions at the meeting that took stock of the latest development on the second phase of the Accord's activities in the country's readymade garment (RMG) sector.

"Almost all in the meeting have opposed the unilateral extension of the Accord," BGMEA vice president Mahmud Hasan Khan told journalists after the meeting. The Accord is expected to expand its nature and area of inspection and other activities, especially promotion of freedom of association.

"We don't want continuation of the Accord for an indefinite period and, at the same time, want an acceptable body to take the charge of ongoing safety activities," he added.  He said the BGMEA would send a letter to the government for its intervention.

Most of the apparel manufacturers opposed the time extension of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety by three more years, saying factory remediation work will be completed within the current tenure. “We don't accept the new agreement. It is a unilateral decision by the Accord,” said Siddiqur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

“We have not been included in the board of the Accord and the signatories did not even show the draft copy of the new agreement,” Rahman said.  “We don't need the Accord anymore,” said Atiqul Islam, a former president of BGMEA.

They called for strengthening of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) and the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) for fortifying workplace safety and better labour rights. According to BGMEA leaders, the government, the RCC and BGMEA can continue working on strengthening the workplace safety and improve the labour rights.

Islam was the president of BGMEA when the current Accord was signed in May 2013. The current five-year campaign for fire and building safety expires next May and involves only European brands. Islam, however, admired the remediation activities of the Accord as thousands of loopholes in nearly 3,000 factory buildings have been identified and repaired. But it criticized the way Accord handles the overall situation.

According to industry leaders and experts, inclusion of freedom of association in the new agreement is very surprising as Bangladesh as a sovereign country has a very strong labour law which has given full freedom of association to the workers at factory level.  They hoped that the signatories of the new agreement would include the government and BGMEA in the executive body of the Accord. But this has not been done.

Accord to add boilers in safety inspection

Meanwhile, the EU retailers group in a statement recently expressed its willingness to expand its inspection programme to include boilers in the apparel and textile sector.

Accord made the declaration following the boiler explosion at Multifabs Ltd in Gazipur on July 3 that killed 13 workers and injured dozens more. In a statement, the EU retailers group also expressed its deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have perished from the explosion and wish those who have suffered injuries a full and speedy recovery.

It said that early morning on July 4, an Accord team of fire, electrical, and structural engineers conducted a post-explosion inspection at factory and the reports of the Accord engineers will be completed as a matter of highest priority and are expected to provide more details on what happened, the level of damage, and what will be required regarding repairs.

‘In light of the obvious need, the Accord will evaluate whether it can expand its inspection programme to include boilers,’ the Accord said.

It also urged all brands producing at Multifabs Ltd as well as the factory owner to ensure full and fair compensation to the families of the workers who died and to the injured workers, consistent with the standard established by the Rana Plaza Arrangement.

The Accord said that the platform conducted initial fire, electrical and structural inspections at Multifabs Ltd in 2014 and 2015 and the required fire separation of the boiler room from the Accord fire safety inspections was verified as corrected by Accord engineers at a follow up inspection on October 26, 2016.