The much-talked about cracks between Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the country’s apex garment manufacturing body, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), that started appearing rather prominently, pertaining to what the garment makers’ body alleged unilateral decisions by the European retailers’ platform despite its agreement with BGMEA on issues related to factory remediation, seem to have been sorted out to the relief of the industry at last.
The concerned parties reportedly decided to call truce following Accord’s decision to abstain from terminating ties with any readymade garment factory without consulting the BGMEA. A decision to this end was reached following a meeting between the BGMEA and the Accord steering committee held on 2 and 3 September in Dhaka.
It may be mentioned here that the BGMEA had earlier accused the buyers’ body of taking new programmes on its own for factory renovation though the initiative is bound by a deal to work with local entrepreneurs and experts. It further alleged that Accord was often changing safety rules, making it difficult for the entrepreneurs to follow those.
“Accord is planning programmes on its own even after the deal. It is a breach of the deal’s basic spirit,”maintained BGMEA President Rubana Huq earlier.
She also criticised Accord’s multi-level inspection system, alleging it was delaying clearance for the factories. Rubana alleged that factory owners were failing to secure fire safety clearance as Accord was often changing safety standards. “We had an agreement with Accord in May this year that it will not take any decision unilaterally but that has not been honoured. Accord takes many decisions without discussing with us. The new conditions are slowing down our pace. It is imposing conditions that should have been set in the past and this is harming the industry,” she said, adding that the industry has learned many things from Accord and urged it to give “a clear guideline about fire safety.”
However, after the latest meeting with Accord, Rubana sent a letter to the members of the trade body informing that as per the agreement between the BGMEA and the Accord, the chief safety inspector of Accord would not escalate factories on the criteria of average corrected remediation percentage for the fire safety henceforth.
“There will be no escalation for negative suction-related non-compliance. The CSI may escalate for lack of remediation for specific fire CAP items after collaborating with the BGMEA,” the BGMEA chief underlined while maintaining that as per the clauses of a memorandum of understanding, the BGMEA and the Accord would establish a technical sub-committee of experts to generate and recommend additional solutions that enable suppliers to implement fire-related corrective action plans (CAP).
Rubana further informed the BGMEA members that the Accord would write its signatory brands in order to discourage punitive measures for any stage 1 and stage 2 escalations.
“The Accord retried that the purpose of such escalations is to signal to the suppliers and brands the urgency for both parties to collaborate to remediate non-compliances within the set time frames, so the factory can be de-escalated,” stated Rubana in her letter, adding that the trade body would sent a questionnaire to all factories to develop baseline data for ensuring boiler safety in the RMG units.
As per the decision reached between Accord and BGMEA, BGMEA would now onwards be responsible for developing knowledge to inform the Accord and RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) to prepare for rolling out the boiler safety inspections under the RSC.
According to reports, in the said meeting, the parties concerned discussed a wide range of issues to ensure a smooth transition of the Accord and its functions (related to inspections, remediation, training and safety complaints mechanism) to the RSC by the end of May 2020.
It may be mentioned here that following the Rana Plaza building collapse (on 24 April 2013), which killed more than 1,100 people, mostly garments workers, European apparel retailers formed the Accord undertaking a five-year plan, which set timeframes and accountability for inspections and training and workers empowerment programmes while the North American brands and retailers on the other hand formed Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and, the platform left Bangladesh on 31 December 2018 (after the end of its tenure), after inspecting around 700 factories in the country.
Even though the five-year timeframe of Accord expired on 31 May 2018, the platform got six months’ extension as transition period following which the buyers’ body approached the apex court, which allowed Accord to run its operation in Bangladesh for 281 working days since 8 May this year.