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Global fashion brands, unions agree to extend Bangladesh deal

  • Published at 12:11 pm June 30th, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:17 pm June 30th, 2017
Global fashion brands, unions agree to extend Bangladesh deal
Leading global fashion brands and trade unions agreed Thursday to continue a safety programme involving thousands of garment factories in Bangladesh for another three years, according to a report by the Associated Press. Two Switzerland-based global trade unions — IndustriALL Global Union and UNIGlobal Union — and brand representatives announced the agreement in Paris. The current five-year campaign for fire and building safety expires next May and involves only European brands. Another group of North American brands is working separately to improve safety conditions in Bangladesh. The purpose of new Accord extension to make sure that progress achieved under the first Accord is maintained and workers in more factories are brought under the Accord's umbrella of protection as signatory brands and retailers add more factories to their supply chains. The objective of renewal of the agreement is not to give factories currently engaged in safety renovations additional time to complete this work. All covered factories have existing corrective action plans with deadlines, all of which expire well before the end of the first Accord in May of 2018, according to a press release. Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second largest in the world with about 4,000 factories employing about 4m workers, earns $25bn a year from exports, mainly to the US and Europe. Following the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster, global clothing companies joined the Bangladesh administration in promising to improve safety standards. Since then, representatives from North American and European brands have visited the country's garment factories to suggest improvements or sever ties with factories that failed to improve. The Bangladesh government has also hired more than 350 new factory inspectors and passed legislation setting up a workers' welfare fund and allowing stronger union representation. The new Accord, like the first, is an agreement between unions and apparel brands and retailers, and also includes, as witness signatories, four non-governmental labour rights organisations – Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labour Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network and Worker Rights Consortium. According to Ineke Zeldenrust of Clean Clothes Campaign, "The renewal of Bangladesh Accord ensures the continuation of the most effective programme to ensure workplace safety in the contemporary era of global garment production. The new Accord opens the door to a possible negotiated expansion of scope, to include factories that make related products like home textiles and footwear, as well as thread and cloth. As of Thursday morning, 23 companies had signed the new agreement, said Christy Hoffman, deputy general secretary of UNIGlobal Union, which represents workers in the retail sector. But a large majority of the previous signers — 217 brands — are expected to be part of the new deal, which will include more worker training, she said. The initial agreement covered about 2.5m workers, Hoffman said. The new agreement extends building safety inspections for all covered factories, ensuring that safety improvements achieved under the first accord will be maintained and any new problems will be addressed, IndustriALL General Secretary Valter Sanches said in a statement. Under the first accord, engineers carried out fire, electrical and structural safety inspections at more than 1,800 factories, identifying 118,500 hazards, of which 79% were addressed, Sanches said. He said the agreement "shows that industrial relations can be used to save lives and improve global supply chains." Aleix Gusquets Gonzalez, head of C&A Global's external stakeholders' engagement, said 41% of the garments sold by the worldwide chain of clothing stores are produced in Bangladesh. "We need to make sure that our garments are made in decent conditions," he said. Jenny Holdcroft, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL, said a key aspect of the Bangladesh accord is putting tools for health and safety improvement in the hands of the workers. "What they need is tools they can use," she said during a news briefing. These "give them power inside the factory," she said, stressing that the new accord further emphasizes the role of workers. "Only workers, she said, can be "the eyes and ears in a factory."
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