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Ahammad Parvej Khan
Country’s readymade garment (RMG) factories are facing serious difficulties to survive due to the conditions set forth by the Accord, a European buyers’ platform working to improve workplace safety in Bangladesh’s RMG sector.
This foreign inspection agency was formed alongside Alliance, a platform of North American retailers, after the Rana Plaza building collapse on April 24 in 2013, in which 1,138 workers were killed and 2,500 others injured. The aim was to fix structural, fire and electrical loopholes in garment factories. However, their activities have reportedly proved to be counterproductive for the local RMG industry.
Industry insiders claim Bangladeshi RMG has lost competitiveness for ‘several irrational conditions’ imposed by the foreign buyers’ agencies, particularly Accord.
According to sources, more than 550 garment factories have already been shut as they failed to improve the compliance as per the guidelines set by Accord.
Those factories, which are now in operation, have also become vulnerable as Accord continues to put pressure on them to fulfil their conditions.
The stipulated term of Accord to work here in Bangladesh is ending by this December, still many factory owners express their fear whether the organisation will be allowed to stay in Bangladesh for more time as the buyers’ platform have been making all-out effort to extend their tenure.
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed told Bangladesh Post on Saturday that Accord no longer needs to stay in Bangladesh because the government has arranged everything for ensuring the fire safety, building safety and protecting the worker’s rights so their role is no more important here.
He said Accord would have to leave Bangladesh by this December, now they have appealed to extend time for their transition. A hearing in this regard will take place soon.
State Minister for Labour and Employment Mujibul Haque Chunnu recently said the government wants Accord and Alliance to pack up their activities in Bangladesh by December referring to that the government is now well-equipped to ensure safety of the country’s garment factories.
He said the government has set up Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) to ensure long-term sustainability and fire safety.
“RCC is capable of monitoring and overseeing the remediation progress of factories under national initiative and taking over the responsibility of factories assessed by Accord and Alliance, so there’s no need of the existence of the Accord and Alliance,” the minister said.
Sources said a total of 3,780 RMG factories have primarily been assessed in terms of fire, electrical safety and structural integrity following the initiatives of Accord, Alliance and National Initiative (NI) after the Rana Plaza incident, and the remediation work is going on under all of them.
Earlier, the government had set a deadline for a smooth transition of Accord by December this year as they have completed the reform activities in their assigned 2,559 factories.
A BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) leader told Bangladesh Post that the country’s apparel industry is now safe, so there is no need for Accord to stay here any longer.
Referring to the already existing stringent laws for RMG industry, the minister opined that the law needs to be relaxed and the government also needs to stand by the factories which have already been closed.
Meanwhile, some workers’ bodies believe that Accord’s tenure needs to be extended further because, due to the presence of the international body, all the factory owners have been serious about building and fire safety in their factories.
The reforms and renovation works of the garments factories are yet to be finished, so the presence of organisations like Accord is still important, they opined.
Accord, too, had appealed to the court for extension of their term, on which a hearing was scheduled to be held on November 19 but finally the hearing did not take place.
On the other hand, the European Parliament recently passed a resolution urging the Bangladesh government to extend the tenure of the Transition of Accord, referring to the fact that significant work still remains unfinished on improving safety standards in the apparel sector.
On November 14, the resolution of the EU parliament called for a marked improvement in worker rights for garment workers – notably in the area of collective bargaining – in order for Bangladesh to continue getting trade privileges in the greater EU markets.
“The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was signed between global apparel brands, retailers and trade unions; whereas to date, less than half of the factories covered by the accord have completed adequate safety measures; whereas the accord expired in October 2018, despite significant work remaining to be done; whereas the accord was succeeded by a Transition Accord to apply for three years,” said the resolution.