Global labour rights groups on Monday said that Bangladesh government’s move to prevent operation of Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a platform of European buyers and retailers, would put worker safety in the country’s readymade garment sector at risk.
In a joint statement, the global union signatories to the Accord — IndustriALL and UNI — and the four witness signatories — Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network and Worker Rights Consortium — called on the trading partners of Bangladesh and global apparel brands to press the government of Bangladesh to refrain from imposing impediments to the Accord continuing its life-saving work.
Citing the submission of the government before the Supreme Court regarding the Accord’s appeal against an order that it cease operating in Bangladesh from November 30, the rights groups said that if the submission was accepted by the court, the independence of the Accord would be destroyed as all the decisions of the platform would have to approved by a government committee.
The Accord would only be allowed to continue operating in Bangladesh under a set of highly obstructive constraints which strip the globally-respected safety initiative of its ability to operate independently of government and employer control, the release said.
‘Another condition would prohibit Accord inspectors from identifying any new safety violations, effectively requiring them to ignore deadly hazards found during their inspections, such as faulty alarm systems, blocked. fire exits, and cracks in structural columns. Yet another would prevent the Accord from taking any action against factory owners who threaten or fire workers for raising safety complaints,’ the rights groups said.
Following Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people mostly garment workers, the EU retailers formed the Accord to improve workplace safety and working conditions in the RMG factories from where they procure products.
The Accord identified more than one lakh fire, building, and electrical hazards and a large majority of them were rectified.
‘Despite this progress, dangers remain and workers’ lives are still at risk. Over 50 per cent of the factories still lack adequate fire alarm and detection systems and 40 per cent are still completing structural renovations,’ the statement said.
The labour rights groups urged Bangladesh’s trading partners including the EU, Canada and the US to request Bangladesh not to impose any restrictions on the Accord.
‘If the government of Bangladesh does not allow the Accord to operate effectively and independently, trading partners will have to consider the impact this decision will have on their trade policy with Bangladesh overall,’ it said.
Unless the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the government swiftly negotiate with the Accord a feasible way for its full operations to continue, the future prospects for favourable tariff treatment for Bangladeshi exports would be much dimmer, the rights groups said.
‘If it wishes to avoid irreparable damage to Bangladesh’s reputation as an apparel exporter, rather than preventing the Accord from continuing its life-saving work, the government should focus on the development of a competent national regulatory body that can assure the safety of Bangladesh’s garment factories into the future,’ the statement said.
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