Fashion brands sign new pledge to protect garment workers

27 August 2021

Companies including H&M and Inditex have signed up to a new agreement to protect garment workers in Bangladesh following talks between unions, retailers and factory owners. 

The agreement will replace the 2013 Accord on Fire and Building Safety agreement, which was formed after 1,100 workers were killed in the Rana Plaza factory collapse. 

The 2013 agreement marked the first time companies could face legal action if they failed to meet health and safety standards within factories. It committed companies to carry out independent inspections at the sites, and to contribute to safety training and factory improvements.

Since the agreement, over 38,000 factory inspections have been carried out, and nearly 200 factories have lost their contracts for failing to meet standards. 

The new agreement will be valid until 2023 and will be managed by the Ready-Made Garments Sustainability Council. 

There is a plan to expand the agreement to cover at least one other country beyond Bangladesh. Companies are expected to meet in six months to discuss which other countries the agreement will cover, with the aim of implementing the changes within two years. 

The latest agreement expands general health and safety for workers beyond fire and building safety, brings in shared responsibility for governance between suppliers and brands, and commits firms to human rights due diligence along supply chains.

Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, a Swiss-based federation of unions across 150 countries, told The New York Times: “We are extremely encouraged by this new agreement, which preserves key obligations from the original accord and which will hopefully ensure credibility and accountability at a critical time for the Bangladeshi garment industry.”

Bangladesh has the world’s third largest garment industry, behind China and Vietnam. It is estimated the country has over four million garment workers across 4,000 factories, with the industry representing around 16% of GDP.

Covid triggered fresh concerns over garment workers’ rights, with the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) finding workers were paid on average 38% less than their usual wage at the height of the pandemic.

CCC estimated wages lost by garment workers worldwide, excluding China, for the months March, April and May 2020 may have amounted to between $3.19bn and $5.79bn. 

The full list of companies signing up to the commitments will be announced on 1 September.

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