The next challenge is to finalise and implement corrective plans and ensure brands stay committed to protecting worker safety
Bangladeshi activists and relatives of the victims of the Rana Plaza building collapse. The Bangladesh Accord has inspected more than 1,100 factories and found over 80,000 safety issues. Photograph: MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images
It has been almost 18 months since the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed killing more than 1,100 people and injuring over 2,000. This tragedy gave the ready-made garment industry a much needed wake up call and led to the creation of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Ever since, the Accord has been working towards solutions with the industry, labour unions and brands, to make sure nothing like that happens ever again.
We have recently completed the initial inspections at more than 1,100 factories covered under the agreement, within the agreed time line of end September 2014. We have found safety hazards in all factories, which in all honesty was to be expected. These ranged from minor to significant.
More than 80,000 safety issues were identified that needed to be resolved. Many of the corrective actions such as reducing weight loads and adhering to load management plans are already being implemented and monitored. Our inspectors have also identified more substantial safety requirements such as installing fire doors and automated fire alarm systems, establishing fire protected exits from factory buildings, and strengthening of columns in the buildings.
There are a huge number of issues to resolve. But the whole Accord itself is an ambitious undertaking; it’s a ground-breaking, legally-binding, worker safety initiative. Brand signatory membership has increased dramatically from around 40 brands and retailers in May 2013 to 189 today, covering more than 1,500 factories employing approximately two million workers. Signatories also include two global union federations, eight Bangladeshi garment workers’ unions and union bodies, and four international labour rights organisations, participating as witness signatories. And are are welcoming new members on a weekly basis.
So far, 17 of the structural inspections by the Accord have resulted in ‘critical findings’, leading the inspection team to recommend temporary suspension of (parts of) the production in the factories. Such temporary evacuation would allow for more in-depth tests, weight and load removal from the building, or immediate strengthening measures.
Decisions to suspend production are not taken lightly, but they are taken for a good reason, because the factories are unsafe and we want to avoid another tragedy. It is a clear area where the Accord is fulfilling its core mission, which is getting workers out of the most dangerous factories until they are made safe.
An important safeguard for workers is the Accord’s provision that workers’ employment relationships and wages shall be maintained for six months during renovations. This is made possible by the signatory brands’ unprecedented commitment to support the Bangladeshi garment sector with continued sourcing commitments and financial and technical support for remediation where needed.
Out of the factories inspected, over 400 Corrective Action Plans (CAP) have been finalised by the factories and company signatories and approved by the Accord chief safety inspector. The CAPs are paramount as they outline the remedial measures that must be taken to ensure an acceptably safe working environment. The factories will only meet minimal safety standards once remediation is completed. The rest of the CAPS will be finalised in the coming months.
Now that the inspections have been carried out, the next challenge for the Accord is finalising and implementing corrective action plans, which should happen in the coming months. We will also continue to monitor the commitment of brands to meet their obligations under the Accord, in particular their commitment to continue business relationships and to ensure sufficient funds are available to pay for the remediation.
Furthermore, we will promote worker participation and empowerment including establishing credible labour-management occupational health and safety committees at the factory level.
Fundamentally worker safety is impossible without meaningful worker empowerment. That is why the Accord contains provisions that ensure not just that workers can participate in the programme, but that workers can influence the programme, both in terms of what happens on the factory floor and at the highest levels of Accord decision-making through labour representatives in the Accord’s governing body. This in time will ensure that the workers themselves are enabled to safeguard and address safety standards and work together with the factories and brands to ensure a safe working environment.
Source: The Guardian