The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a platform of European apparel buyers, is set to receive six months of conditional extension to complete its safety improvement remediation works in the country’s readymade garment factories.
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed made the announcement after a meeting with the Accord Steering Committee at his office in Dhaka on Thursday.
BGMEA President Siddiqur Rahman, FBCCI President Shafilul Islam Mohiudfdin and BGMEA Vice President Mahmud Hasan Khan Babu were also present at the meeting.
“The government, BGMEA, and representatives from brands have decided that the Accord will be prepared to leave within the stipulated deadline,” Tofail told reporters.
He said as per the agreement, signed when Accord was formed in 2013, their work to improve the safety situations in Bangladesh’s RMG sector would be over by May 31, 2018. Recently, Accord had unilaterally declared to extend its tenure until 2021.
The minister, however, said the handover process to the National Initiative might be delayed after the deadline expires. “For that, Accord will need a transitional period and that will be six month. This period will be termed as ‘Transitional Accord’.”
“Accord has completed about 80% of the remediation task and I hope it will be able to complete the rest within next seven months,” Tofail added.
After Accord leaves, a Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) under the Ministry of Labour and Employment would monitor the safety improvement works, he said.
Alliance, another platform of North American buyers, has also informed the government that they hope to complete their work and leave within the given time, the minister said. “I hope Accord will do the same.”
Thursday’s meeting also decided that a steering committee lead by the Labour and Employment Ministry would hold the first review meeting in January and the second one within May 31.
The committee will be composed of representatives of the Labour Ministry, BGMEA, the brands, International Labour Organisation and international trade unions organisations.
“If the committee finds that the task is done, then Accord will leave,” said Tofail.
The meeting also decided to verify information provided by the Bangladeshi trade union organisations to their global counterparts.
The commerce minister alleged that there were some leaders of local trade unions, who do not work in the garment factories, sometimes complain and provide information to the international trade organisations without informing the government.
“We have reached a consensus that if any local trade union complains or provides information to a international trade organisation against any industrialist, the organisation will have to verify it through the Labour Ministry,” Tofail added.
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune after the meeting, one of the brand representatives Edward David Southall, head of global sourcing of LC Waikki, said: “We will advise on what kind of structure, people, engineers and data system the sector need.
“We will help to meet all of these. We don’t consider the RCC to be a rival rather handle with it.”
By May 31, he said, the steering committee would decide whether the RCC would be able to handle the criteria related to safety issues. “If the answer is no, we will review in another six months. If the answer is yes, we will start the handover period. We anticipate that will be six months too.”
“Taking from the brands’ point of views, our business is selling garments and making garment in Bangladesh like other countries. Our business is not remediating factories in Bangladesh,” Southall said replying to a question on Accord’s possible extended stay here.
The issue of safety in the readymade garment industry came under the spotlight following the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster that killed more than 1,100 people and injured over 2,500 others; most of the victims were workers of five garment factories.
The incident had raised question about the workers’ safety and safer workplace.
Facing huge pressure from rights group and global and local trade unions, international retailers formed Alliance and Accord to improve the safety standards in the country’s RMG sector.