Against the backdrop of third-party agencies Accord and Alliance, which have been overseeing factory remediation work in the country for the last 5 years, on their way out, the Government has reportedly decided to take the onus on itself to ensure a safe, secure and compliant apparel manufacturing sector. After the departure of Accord and Alliance, which is likely to happen by December this year, a Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC), overseen by the state, will carry forward the work initiated by the buyers’ bodies.
Following the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013 that killed more than 1,100 – mostly garment workers, a total of 3,780 garment factories were reportedly assessed for structural compliance under the three separate initiatives — European retailers’ platform Accord, North American buyers’ platform Alliance, and the Government-led and ILO-supported national initiative.
The efforts put in by the buyers’ bodies towards remediating the apparel sector have been appreciated. There’s no denying that Accord and Alliance did create quite some flutter in the industry amidst allegations that manufacturers were forced to make costly remediation work under pressure, which at times weren’t within the parameters of necessity and rather amounted to un-rational and needless, feel many.
Now that Accord and Alliance are departing, the country with the promise of replicating the Bangladesh model of remediation (which the agencies feel has been very successful) in other manufacturing destinations, Apparel Resources spoke to some industry stakeholders to understand their take on the issue, and the way forward.
“These days, the 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 a few more months. 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 very good workplace environment through team work, positive attitude, and huge investments. If some factories still lack in achieving those goals, they will also be able to overcome, I am sure,” said a confident Mir Gulzar-A-Alam, CEO of Western Fashion Tex & Sourcing while Brig. Gen. (Retd.) Aftab Uddin Ahmed, CEO of the Centre of Excellence of BGMEA maintained, “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 goals towards safer workplace. Besides, the buyers’ bodies would hand over the charge to another entity.”
The manufacturers too shared their views rather forthrightly. “Accord and Alliance have different ways of working and for the same cause, so there is a conflict of interest. The biggest issue that we have been facing is the lack of standardised compliance codes. There are different entities and each has its own standards and specifications, so factories need a standardised policy that would be same for all the platforms. From a personal viewpoint, the changes that have been brought about by Accord and Alliance, especially in the aftermath of Rana Plaza incident, I feel, was very much needed. Now that there are talks of the buyers’ bodies planning to leave the country, I have my doubts if the Government-initiated monitoring system, that would take over from Accord and Alliance, would be able work as efficiently and fluidly as they did,” observed Mainuddin Ahmed, Director-Anowara Group.
“All the buyers have certain standards in terms of safety and security that has to be maintained by the supplier factories. Buyers’ bodies like Accord and Alliance just added to that list of dos and don’ts. The brands/retailers are well aware of what new guidelines have been imposed by these buyers’ platforms and all they need to do to check and confirm if a factory is abiding by the same is do an audit, which again all the buyers carry out before placing any order. Today, all the big buyers have their own audit teams while others do the audits through third party,” says Imranur Rahman, Managing Director-Bando Designs Ltd. Syed Naved Husain, Group Director & CEO-Beximco Limited maintained, “Accord and Alliance ought to have common codes. What I feel is that, the Government needs to have its own set of codes and regulations when it comes to remediation and workplace safety, and to be honest, our Government has done a wonderful job in the direction of making the industry a safer place. At this moment, a lot of investment has gone in towards compliance which is in keeping with the business practices of the current time. From buyers to retailers to end users, all are aware of the compliance requirements and one cannot run a business successfully if one is not compliant. Given the present circumstances, I don’t think one needs to have an Accord or Alliance to impose things on factories, as manufacturers on their own are aware of the need of importance of compliance to make business sustainable.”