April 24, 2023, marked the 10th anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, where at least 1,132 people lost their lives in a senseless garment factory collapse. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the landmark Bangladesh Accord was created to build a safer, more humane Bangladeshi textile and garment industry through factory safety inspections, upgrades, and training. Signed by global brands, retailers, and unions the agreement has since played a pivotal role in reforming the fashion industry.
Following negotiations between apparel brands and global unions, a new and expanded International Accord came into effect in September 2021, building upon the progress of its predecessor agreement. As of 2023, the Accord has expanded into Pakistan, where many more garment workers will be protected. To help the public better understand the importance of this expansion, its provisions, and how citizens can help encourage more brands to sign, Remake has compiled this list of frequently asked questions on the Pakistan Accord.
The Pakistan Accord on Health & Safety in the Textile & Garment Industry (Pakistan Accord) is a new legally-binding agreement between global unions, IndustriALL and UNI Global Union, and various brands and retailers that extends the landmark worker safety program of the 2021 International Accord into Pakistan. It has established a Country-Specific Safety Program (CSSP) that covers a wider range of health and safety issues beyond building and fire safety. The Pakistan Accord maintains the following key Accord provisions, all of which companies commit to upon becoming signatories:
The Pakistan Accord also establishes a strong new worker complaint mechanism, through which workers can “raise concerns about health and safety risks in a timely fashion, safely and confidentially.” Signatories are required to both support and comply with the outcomes of the complaint process.
The new country program encompasses all Pakistan-based cut-make-trim (CMT) facilities and fabric mills that are within the supply chains of Accord signatories, including ready-made garment (RMG), home textile, and knit accessories suppliers.
While the Pakistan Accord retains all the vital elements of the Bangladesh Accord, there are a few ways in which the Pakistani program is unique, namely that it has a wider facility scope which is to include fabric mills, and covers a broader array of health and safety issues (not just building and fire safety), like sexual harassment, gender-based violence and harassment, and excessive working hours.
The Pakistan Accord also introduces an independent complaints mechanism to all those working in the newly covered factories, whereby workers can anonymously report occupational health and safety concerns via telephone, without fear of retaliation. Reported concerns are processed by independent and impartial complaints handlers who assess each case and present their findings to the factory management, complainant, and associated brands. The complaints handler will then issue a resolution, where necessary, “that ensures remediation of hazards and remedy for any harm done.” Health and safety complaints are published on the International Accord website, including the complaint description, status, and outcome.
The International Accord introduced several new agreement features, one of which was the “commitment to expand the work of the International Accord based on feasibility studies.” As such, the Accord Steering committee began feasibility studies in other garment-producing countries to determine where the program might operate next. Pakistan was identified as one of four priority countries, along with Sri Lanka, Morocco, and India.
Pakistan was ultimately chosen as the next area of expansion based on both the urgent need for workplace health and safety improvements in the country and on the strong level of interest expressed among stakeholders and Accord signatories producing there.
There is no doubt that an Accord on Health and Safety is needed in Pakistan. Fatal garment factory accidents like The Ali Enterprises factory fire in Karachi in 2012, which took the lives of over 260 workers, continue to this day. In 2021, from January through August, 27 garment workers were killed and 62 injured due to factory fires, insufficient or locked or barred exits, faulty electrical wiring, chemical leaks, and collapsed buildings. For years, labor groups campaigning in Pakistan have called for the Accord’s presence. In December of 2022, it was announced the Accord would expand into Pakistan.
See this Remake article to learn more about worker rights issues in Pakistan and their connection to the Accord.
Many of the same conditions that led to the Rana Plaza tragedy still exist across most garment producing countries, including hyper-competitive pricing that encourages factories to cut corners on safety. Without the Accord, we risk the disintegration of progress made to improve factory conditions and worker wellbeing, alongside brand evasion of responsibility for addressing safety hazards in the factories where our clothes are made. In order to further progress on worker health and safety and prevent future incidents like Rana Plaza from occurring in Bangladesh, Pakistan and beyond, it is imperative that the Accord be expanded to countries where garment makers face the highest risk of danger in the workplace.
What’s more, according to a 2022 Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) report, “Workers’ lives at risk: how brands profit from unsafe factory work in Pakistan,” which surveyed workers in Pakistan producing for brands such as Levi’s, Target, Amazon, and JCPenney, health and wellbeing problems are rife in the industry. The report found that of the 585 garment workers surveyed:
Unsafe working conditions continue to kill garment workers in other countries as well. Recent workplace tragedies in North Africa, including 28 workers killed by electrocution in an illegal garment factory in Morocco in February 2021, 20 workers killed in a fire at a garment factory in Egypt in March 2021, and eight people killed in a collapse later that month in the same country show the urgent need for the Accord’s expansion to other nations. Further prolonging of Accord programs will only continue to come at the expense of workers who have already waited far too long for industry change.
Based on the success of the Bangladesh Accord and by bringing brands, factories and unions together to share costs and work towards common goals, the Pakistan Accord is also a “potential game-changer” and an opportunity for Pakistan to secure its position as a leader in safe and ethical garment production.
The Accord is effective in that it is legally binding and enforceable against individual brands. In other words, it is backed by a contract which obligates its participants to fulfill their responsibilities, or face the consequences of non-compliance. Thus, brands can be held responsible if they don’t follow through. Under the Accord contract, brands can even be sued in court by unions if they break their promises. Voluntary initiatives have in the past been unable to prevent mass casualties in apparel factories, and the Accord by contrast has proven what is possible with a contract between brands, unions, and suppliers. The Accord is also strengthened by the equal decision-making power shared between unions and corporations.
The International Accord has been hugely impactful, protecting the lives of approximately 1.8 million workers in 1,700 factories across Bangladesh through facility inspections, upgrades, and safety trainings. It’s estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of lives, have been saved in Bangladesh by the Accord, which has effectively ended cycles of fires, building collapses, and other accidents that senselessly take garment makers’ lives.
To date, the Accord’s workplace programs have successfully trained over 1,020 safety committees, included over 1.7 million participants in safety trainings, and processed over 1,800 worker complaints.
According to 2014/2015 estimates, there are approximately 2.2 million garment workers in Pakistan (note this figure has likely grown in recent years; however, current data surrounding textile sector employment in Pakistan is limited). Based on Pakistan Bureau of Statistics data from 2018, the textile and garment industry accounts for at least 6.7% of Pakistan’s total labor force.
With over 60 brands and retailers currently signed on to the Pakistan Accord as of July 2023, approximately 800,000 Pakistani workers will be covered by the Accord.
Thus far, with more than 60 brands and retailers currently signed on to the Pakistan Accord as of June 2023, over 500 factories with approximately 800,000 workers, representing over USD 2 billion in export value, will be covered across Pakistan.
The Pakistan Accord has an initial term of three years, beginning in 2023, with the prospect of renewal thereafter. Over the course of this period, the Pakistan program will be implemented in phases. Each phase will be reviewed “in close collaboration with the key constituents, industry, trade unions and brands” upon completion so that adjustments may be applied to the rollout of the following phase.
The International Accord Secretariat is responsible for implementation with liaison offices established in Karachi and Lahore. The Secretariat will work closely with garment and textile industry representatives, Pakistan’s government institutions, local trade unions, civil society organizations, local experts and ILO – Better Work Pakistan. Management of the Pakistan Accord’s first phases and monitoring of signatory agreement fulfillment will both be carried out by the International Accord Steering Committee. Through a consultative process, a national governance body consisting of national constituents, industry representatives, brands, trade unions, and others will also be established.
Accord programs are funded by the signatory companies. Each company contributes “its equitable share according to a formula established by the SC [Steering Committee]” with annual contributions ranging from $2,500 for small companies, to a maximum of $185,000 for brand and retail giants.
Keep in mind that for many of these large companies producing in Pakistan, even the maximum contribution is but a drop in the bucket compared to their annual revenues. In 2022, some signatories saw revenues in the billions, including AEO Inc. ($1.5 billion), H&M ($23.8 billion), Inditex ($32.6 billion), and PVH Corp. ($2.281 billion). Meanwhile, non-signatory Levi Strauss & Co. reported a net revenue of $6.2 billion for fiscal year 2022, yet still has not signed the Accord to protect its garment workers in Bangladesh or Pakistan.
No! A brand must separately sign on to the Pakistan Accord. Of the original 190 signatories to the International Accord, 110 produce in Pakistan and are expected to reconfirm their commitment to the Pakistan Accord. Over 60 of these brands have signed on to the extended Accord thus far.
Yes! All apparel and/or textile brands and retailers producing in a country covered by an Accord agreement (Bangladesh and Pakistan) can join. Information and steps on how to become an Accord signatory can be found here.
As of July 2023, more than 60 brands and retailers covering over 500 factories and 800,000 workers have signed on to the Pakistan Accord. Signatories include AEO Inc. (American Eagle and Aerie), ASOS, Bestseller, C&A, Gap Inc., H&M, Inditex (Zara), Marks & Spencer, NEXT, Otto Group, Primark, PVH Corp. (Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger), Hugo Boss, MANGO, and Fast Retailing (Uniqlo), among others. More companies are expected to sign on in the coming weeks.
Keep up with signatory progress using Remake’s Brand Tracker.
Major brands with five or more factories in Pakistan who have yet to sign on include Amazon, ASDA, Columbia Sportswear, Decathlon, IKEA, JCPenney, Kontoor Brands (Wrangler, Lee, Rock & Republic), Levi Strauss & Co., Target (USA), Tom Tailor, URBN (Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People), and Walmart.
Keep up with signatory progress using Remake’s Brand Tracker.
The Accord not only ensures worker safety and well-being for brands’ supply chain workers in covered countries (which alone, is reason enough to sign), but also presents an opportunity for companies to actually live up to their often hollow ethical production claims. This in turn builds customer, worker, and supplier trust, as brands show genuine follow-through when it comes to making good on their social promises, with the added benefit of improving public image.
Some but not all apparel brands do not want to be held legally accountable or financially responsible for keeping their garment makers safe. They hope to replace the Accord with a safety plan that is not legally enforceable on them. We don’t believe that they will keep their promises if they can’t be brought to court individually, as their factory audits, voluntary initiatives and empty promises have already failed to prevent Rana Plaza and countless other incidents.
In refusing to sign on to the International Accord, Levi Strauss & Co. has failed to take responsibility for its workers in Bangladesh. Levi’s is currently free riding off the Accord and its signatories, while propelling its own reputation as a supporter of ethical practices without the financial backing and binding commitments to hold it accountable for such claims. Further, its own self-regulated worker safety programs are insufficient in keeping workers safe. In January 2022, four workers died from poisonous gas inhalation in a Pakistani denim factory producing for Levi’s — the result of inadequate facility safety measures. This incident only emphasizes the importance of the Accord and immediate need for Levi’s to sign the binding agreements covering both Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Considering Levi’s uses over 20 supplier facilities in Pakistan, the new regional agreement presents a new opportunity for the company to end its free riding pattern and finally step up to the plate and ensure workplace safety for its garment makers.
Yes! If you want to pressure more brands to join, here is a list of major companies that have and have not signed the Pakistan Accord. You can also sign this petition to let brand executives at the “dirty dozen” nonsignatory companies know they need to sign on!
Follow Remake’s Campaigns page for more ways to take action, from writing emails and firing off Tweets to brands, to organizing a letter drop or demonstration.