After almost five years since inception, Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety is set to leave Bangladesh by the end of this year and perhaps so would the European buyers’ platform Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, or will it?
“The Alliance will not be here after January 1 next year. We are not asking for an extension,” underlined the Executive Director of the North American buyers’ body (Alliance), Jim Moriarty, recently.
It may be mentioned here that the global buyers’ bodies- Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety – were formed in the wake of the tragic Rana Plaza incident, to carry out inspection and remediation of the apparel manufacturing units in the Bangladesh readymade garment sector.
The five-year timeframe of Accord too ended in May this year, following which, the Bangladesh Government extended its tenure by six more months as transitional period. This effectively means that Accord should also be on its way out by the end of 2018. However, there is a big catch! Citing observations of the fourth review meeting of the Sustainability Compact held on June 25 in Brussels, an Accord statement maintained that representatives from EU, US, and Canadian Governments, European Parliament’s members, International Labour Organisation and Accord signatory brands and unions urged Bangladesh to ensure that the Accord operations continue until the Remediation Coordination Cell is deemed ready by the multi-stakeholder Transition Monitoring Committee.
“It is in the crucial interest of the signatories to the Accord that the work of remediation which started in May 2013, is completed and a sustainable and adequate national regulatory structure is implemented by the Bangladesh Government to regulate workplace safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry,” the statement underlined.
Only when the assessment body deems the RCC ready to take over responsibilities for the safety of workers based on previously agreed objective criteria, the Accord should wind down its activities, is reportedly the opinion of the buyer’s body.
Further to Accord’s standpoint on this issue, Bangladesh’s Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed recently made obvious what his country thinks on the same when he reportedly maintained, “Accord and Alliance will leave Bangladesh after the six-month transition period on December 7 and then, we will take over the responsibility of factory remediation and inspection.”
Amidst these developments, as per media reports, more than 180 European brands which signed the 2018 Transition Accord, have reportedly warned that if Bangladesh Government goes for a premature shut down of Accord, leaving workers in unsafe working conditions, the brands might reconsider their sourcing decisions.
Under such circumstances, if the buyers’ bodies leave Bangladesh or are made to do so, what implications would it have on the country’s RMG sector?
“I don’t think the exit of the buyers’ bodies would have any business implications as such for the industry. First of all, in the last few years, Bangladesh has achieved the goal towards safer workplace. Besides, the buyers’ bodies would hand over charge to another entity,” observed Brig. Gen. (Retd.) Aftab Uddin Ahmed, CEO of the Centre of Excellence of BGMEA.
“These days, industry is more than aware of workplace safety, thanks to counselling and strong buyers’ demands. Alliance has no more activity in Bangladesh and Accord will be here for another 6 months (approx.). If still some work is left, it will be done jointly by the Government and the BGMEA. Besides, independent inspection team will be formed with ILO, Ministry of Labour & Employment, BGMEA and NGOs. Ministry of Labour & Employment will provide the fund required for the same. Bangladesh has already achieved a very good workplace environment through team work, positive attitude, and huge investments. If some factories still lack in achieving those goals, that will also be corrected, I am sure,” said a confident Mir Gulzar-A-Alam, CEO of Western Fashion Tex & Sourcing.
At a time when the industry is standing at the cusp of next phase of growth, hope the industry’s views on the exit of buyers’ bodies holds true.