Bangladeshi and global unions have announced that they would cut relations with the RMG Sustainability Council alleging that the global brands had backtracked on their commitments to sign a new binding agreement to ensure workers’ safety in the readymade garment sector.
Citing the brands’ refusal to sign a new binding agreement, UNI Global Union and IndustriALL Global Union on May 12 sent a notice to the RSC to end their participation in the council on June 1.
It said that the RSC was created by the Accord through negotiations with the Bangladeshi garment industry in order to include factory owners as stakeholders with the understanding of a new legally-binding agreement between the unions and the brands to succeed Accord.
‘IndustriALL, UNI and local unions in Bangladesh will no longer be part of the RSC and its — stripping away any credibility of the RSC as an effective worker safety organisation,’ said the global unions in a release.
UNI and IndustriALL said that they would re-consider their decision to cease their participation in the RSC if the brands signed a new agreement that continued the principles and obligations of the Accord and expanded the principles and commitments to other countries.
The RSC was created through an agreement between the Accord and the Bangladeshi garment industry through which the RSC agreed to assume all the Accord staff, operations, and protocols with the new entity being governed by the Accord brands, unions and the industry.
However, once the Accord expired at the end of May 2020, the RSC lacked a robust enforcement mechanism to ensure that the brands meet their obligations and factories make reparations.
Following the Rana Plaza building collapse on April 23, 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people, most of whom were garment workers, a legally-binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety was agreed upon among international and Bangladeshi trade unions, the brands and retailers to improve workplace safety in Bangladesh’s apparel sector.
Since 2013, the Accord has inspected and monitored reparations in 2,000 factories and trained over two million workers in health and safety. However, over 1,200 factories are yet to have all measures implemented and verified to standard, the unions claimed.
After ending the tenure on May 2020, the operations of the Accord were overtaken by the RSC on June 1, 2020.
The Bangladeshi and global unions hold one third of the seats on the board of directors of the RSC.
The global unions cannot accept replacing the extremely effective Accord model with an alternative proposal from the brands derived from the failed approaches of the decades prior to the Rana Plaza industrial homicide, the release said.
The global unions claimed that in recent months, the global apparel brands had insisted upon a new framework for the future which discards the key elements that had led to the Accord’s success in making garment factories in Bangladesh safe for workers — for example individual brand accountability and independent monitoring of brands.
‘The brands’ empty promises to renew the Accord and derogatory counter proposals have led to a critical point in Bangladesh garment factory safety and risk the lives of millions of garment workers in Bangladesh,’ they said.
UNI Global Union general secretary Christy Hoffman said that instead of bargaining over the next phase of joint safety work in Bangladesh, the brands had pursued an ‘Accord Exit’ strategy designed to write away any meaningful role for unions in the future.
‘We can’t be a rubber stamp for an industry-brand partnership without real accountability and robust oversight. This is a time when we should be moving forward and building on progress, not going in reverse,’ she said.
IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Valter Sanches said that the brands’ proposal of self-monitoring was a dangerous step backwards and undermined the credibility of the programme.
It would have immediate consequences for the safety of millions of workers in the brands’ supply chains, he added.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Faruque Hassan on Monday told New Age that the union signatories of the RSC demanded a separate agreement with the brands regarding implementation of safety standards and the issue was not related with the BGMEA.
The RSC started its work with the same number of representatives from the industry, buyers and trade unions but many of the buyers were not interested in signing a legally binding agreement with the unions, he said.
‘I do not want to make any comment over the ultimatum of unions about their announcement to quit RSC as the bargaining is going on only between the brands and unions,’ the BGMEA president said.
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