• Friday, Feb 26, 2021
  • Last Update : 12:48 am

Foreign rights groups question Accord’s heir fitness to ensure factory safety

  • Published at 01:33 am December 24th, 2020
Female garment workers in a Bangladeshi factory
File photo of women workers at a garment factory in Bangladesh Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

BGMEA made false claims and unsubstantiated commitments to Building Safety in Bangladesh, says Clean Clothes Campaign

The BGMEA and a group of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have run into a war of words over the effectiveness of the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) to ensure the implementation of the legally binding Accord agreement to guarantee safety at the workplace.  

On December 22, Clean Clothes Campaign, Maquila Solidarity Network, Worker Rights Consortium, Global Labour Justice and International Labour Rights Forum expressed their concern in a statement.

The agreement was signed between 200 garment brands and global and local trade unions.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a member of the RSC’s governing board, on November 26 issued a response that contains false claims and unsubstantiated commitments about the RSC, the statement said.

The RSC was set up to carry forward the work of the Accord in Bangladesh and, at the same time, to support the fulfilment of the signatory obligations under the Accord agreement, it added. 

However, the BGMEA termed the statement as false. 

“As an association, the BGMEA cannot issue “false statement” or can afford to have “unsubstantiated commitments” to building safety in Bangladesh, especially when the industry belongs to us and the safety of the industry is key to our survival,” its President Rubana Huq told Dhaka Tribune. 

“Hence, there is no scope for any of us from within the industry to be passive about the level and standard of safety,” she added.

The BGMEA “falsely claims that the RSC is founded on the core principle that its governance structure brings together all critical stakeholders in one single platform with equal voice and authority”, the NGOs said.

Formed in June 2020, the RSC is governed by a board of 18 directors, where 12 representatives are from the brands and factory owners and the remaining six from the global and local trade unions.

The NGOs objected that representatives of workers (global and local unions) make up only a third of the RSC board members.

Furthermore, the RSC’s board has refused to include a key group of critical stakeholders, labour rights NGOs, who have worked extensively to ensure the obligations of the Accord are being fully executed and who have participated directly in the governance of the Accord in their capacity as non-voting witness signatories, the said.

 

“The RSC board has formed a committee for including the critical stakeholders in the advisory council already. This was adopted as a resolution during the last board meeting.  Therefore, the claim that the board has refused to include any key group of critical stakeholders, labour rights NGOs is false,” the BGMEA said.

Meanwhile, the rights group said that the RSC lacks transparency as it did not display information about factory-specific remediation data, aggregate reports, nor minutes of its board meetings on the website even after six months of inception.   

In reply, the BGMEA said that the RSC website is almost ready and it will mirror all the data and there will be no exception to that rule.

Sharing the minutes of board meetings was an issue that was agreed during an executive board meeting of the RSC only two weeks back. 

“Thus, this claim is also dated,” it added. 

The RSC has committed to a boiler safety inspection programme that was first initiated as a pilot in 2018. 

But even after six months since the RSC began its operations, there is no indication that a boiler safety inspection programme has started, the NGOs said.

“This exposed the imminent risk of a boiler explosion.” 

The pilot programme for boiler safety has not been stopped, while the government has inspection standards and engineers who are ready to engage with RSC on boiler inspections. 

“Thus, that claim too is incorrect,” the BGMEA said in response.  

However, one of the most important commitments made in that Transition Agreement, which was the recruitment of an independent Chief Safety Officer (CSO), remains unfulfilled, the NGOs said.

“A CSO, with the same independence, autonomy, authority, and reporting requirements as elaborated and practiced by the Accord, is essential for the quality and credibility of the inspection programme,” the statement said.

 

The RSC has received a number of CSO applications that are being reviewed. A CSO for RSC should be in place by April 2021, according to the BGMEA.

In the meantime, the MD is acting as the interim CSO.

The NGOs are also alarmed by the BGMEA’s reference to carry out a so-called ‘deep dive’ pilot programme to improve the progress rates of factories. 

 

“While the witness signatories encourage the continued progress of remediation across all factories, it is critical that these efforts be carried out and approved in accordance with the Accord’s rigorous standards. Failing to do so or rushing the process of remediation places the safety of millions of workers at risk.”

 

Huq said the programme is necessary to help the factories reach 100 per cent remediation level.

 

If a factory is offering inspection and is failing during final inspection, then the only way to help them is to look at their individual issues and offer specific remediation instead of general reference to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC).  

The job of RSC is to ensure remediation and as an industry, the BGMEA remains committed to supporting RSC to the best of its ability.  

“It is perhaps easy to point fingers and come up with random accusations, but it takes a lot to build, sustain an industry and provide employment to millions,” Huq added.

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