The eighth anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,130 garment workers in 2013, is a time to reflect on the garment industry’s progress since then. It is also a time to reflect on the concerns and risks involved if the workers’ safety does not continue to be a priority, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety were set up in the aftermath of Rana Plaza with a five-year remit to significantly improve the safety conditions in around 2,300 garment factories. The Accord, which was extended, ends its tenure in May 2021. Its technical responsibilities have transitioned to the national RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), which was set up last year, but brands and retailers have no legally binding obligation to it.
Michelle Russell, Apparel Correspondent for GlobalData, comments: “The tragedy was a wake-up call for Bangladesh and the entire garment industry making them realize that building and worker safety should be a priority. Eight years on and the country has one of the safest and most transparent apparel industries due to the remediation work that ensued. But while much has been achieved, there remains no room for complacency.
“Due to the work of both the initiatives, Bangladesh now has one of the safest industries for worker safety. However, it is crucial that the progress the Alliance and Accord have made, continues beyond these initiatives and that they are used as a blueprint for other garment producing countries where worker safety is threatened.”
Pakistan is one such country where 295 garment workers died when the Ali Enterprise textile factory in Karachi was gutted by a fire in September 2012. This year alone, 28 workers died in a garment factory in Morocco following flooding. The factory did not meet the necessary health and safety conditions. While in Egypt, at least 20 workers lost their lives in a fire at an unlicensed leather factory.
Russell continues: “Discussions are underway between brands, unions and worker rights groups to extend the Accord and expand the agreement internationally. However, no binding treaty or agreement has yet been signed.”
According to the Bangladesh Garment and Manufacturers Export Association (BGMEA), since the RSC took over in September last year, it has completed 1,821 inspections in 904 factories, and conducted ‘ICU Deep Dives’ in 202 factories. Without the full resources of the Accord during the pandemic, the RSC also reportedly performed 75 factory certifications independently.
Russell concludes: “The work the RSC has achieved independently is commendable but there is a concern amongst unions and human rights groups that without a binding agreement, Bangladesh could return to self-monitoring, and thereby risking all the hard work achieved over the last eight years.”