FAQ: International Accord

On April 24th, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh took the lives of 1,138 people and injured thousands more. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the landmark Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created to build a safer, more humane textile and garment industry through factory safety inspections, upgrades, and trainings. Signed by global apparel brands and trade unions, the legally binding agreement has since played a pivotal role in reforming the fashion industry. 

Following negotiations between brand and union signatories, an expanded International Accord on Health & Safety in the Textile & Garment Industry came into effect in September 2021, building upon the progress of its predecessor agreement, and was renewed in November 2023. The Accord has also expanded into Pakistan, where many more garment workers will be protected. To build clarity around 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 International Accord and its Country Specific Safety Programs (CSSPs).

Companies who commit to the International Accord as signatories, agree to the following key elements:

  • Independent factory safety inspections to identify fire, electrical, structural and boiler hazards
  • Brand-backed issue remediation with regular monitoring of progress (published online) and provisions to ensure remediation is financially feasible for suppliers
  • Joint labor-management Safety Committees and Safety Awareness Training Programs for workers
  • An independent worker complaints mechanism and impartial investigations
  • A high level of transparency through publicly available factory disclosures, factory safety and grievance statuses, and Steering Committee meeting minutes 
  • Recognition of workers’ rights to organize, refuse unsafe work, and raise health and safety concerns.
  • Joint capacity building with the covered country’s government to enhance a culture of health and safety in the industry.

The above safety mechanisms have effectively ended cycles of fires, building collapses, and other accidents that senselessly take garment makers’ lives.

While many brands sourcing from Bangladesh and Pakistan have their own voluntary worker and facility safety programs, the Accord by contrast 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 on their commitments and even be taken to court by unions. 

Additionally, in signing the Accord, brands agree to share the financial burden of ensuring workplace safety versus placing that responsibility solely on suppliers, who are already squeezed by hyper-competitive pricing. Accord programs are funded by the signatory companies who each contribute their equitable share, according to a formula established by the Accord Steering Committee, for each agreement they are signed to. That said, even the maximum annual contributions are but a drop in the bucket for these large companies and retail giants, compared to their annual revenues in the billions. 

With its joint governance structure, the Accord has proven what is possible when brands, unions, and suppliers have equal decision-making power and has created a central role for workers in safety inspections and remediation. 

Currently, the International Accord has Country Specific Safety Programs in both Bangladesh and Pakistan. Building upon the initial Bangladesh agreement, The International Accord included a new commitment to expand the program’s coverage based on feasibility studies carried out in other garment-producing countries by the Accord Steering Committee. 

In December 2022, Pakistan was ultimately chosen as the next country for expansion based on its urgent need for workplace health and safety improvements and the strong level of interest among stakeholders and Accord signatories producing there. 

For years, labor groups had also been campaigning for the Accord’s presence in the country, following a series of fatal garment factory accidents. In 2012, the Ali Enterprises factory fire in Karachi, took the lives of over 260 workers, and from January to August 2021, 27 garment workers were killed and 62 injured as a result of factory fires; insufficient, locked, or barred exits; faulty electrical wiring; chemical leaks; and building collapses. Later, in January 2022, four workers died from poisonous gas inhalation at a Pakistani denim factory producing for Levi’s. 

Beyond the clear need for improved facility safety, Pakistan’s garment and textile industry is an important driver of the country’s economic growth, responsible for 60% of the country’s total exports and employing 40% of its industrial labor force. After 10+ years of success in Bangladesh, the Accord will similarly expand its benefits to Pakistan, making it an increasingly safe and reliable sourcing option for global buyers.

Since 2013, the Accord has protected the lives of over 2.9 million garment makers across more than 2,100 factories in both Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Widespread improvements within Bangladesh’s textile industry can be attributed to the Accord’s completion of 56,000 inspections, remediation of over 140,000 (92%) safety hazards (structural, electrical, and fire), processing of 1,800+ worker complaints, establishment of 11,000+ safety committee members, and training of over 2 million workers. 

As a result, the number of fatal accidents and fires in the country’s garment sector have dramatically decreased and buyers have increasingly turned to Bangladesh as a safe and reliable sourcing option. In fact, the Accord’s work in Bangladesh over the past decade has corresponded with a significant increase in the country’s garment exports from $24.5 billion (2013-2014) to $42.6 billion (2021-2022).

In just over one year since the Pakistan Accord was established, company signatories representing upward of $2.4 billion in export value have signed to the CSSP, which means the Accord’s safety initiatives and benefits are set to cover approximately 484 factories and 539,697 workers in Pakistan.

Many of the poor safety conditions that led to the Rana Plaza tragedy still exist across garment producing countries today. These are exacerbated by the hyper-competitive pricing that results from brands’ unfair commercial practices and forces factories to cut corners on safety. Without the Accord, brands will continue to evade responsibility for addressing safety hazards in their sourcing factories. 

In order to prevent future incidents like Rana Plaza from occurring in Bangladesh, Pakistan and beyond, it is imperative that: 1) more brands sign on; and 2) the Accord be expanded to countries where garment makers face the highest risk of endangerment in the workplace.

Hold-out brands who have yet to sign the Accord often say they prefer to self-assess or elect into their own non-binding workplace safety programs. Through direct consultation with garment worker partners, we recognize that non-binding agreements, be they brand-led audits or other private programs, do not give workers an equal seat at the table, nor do they build true accountability for brands and manufacturers to work together. Ultimately, company policy is a suggestion. Contractual language is enforceable.

As we know from history, voluntary initiatives have on many occasions failed to prevent worker harm in apparel factories. The Accord, by contrast, is a model for progress because of the way it unites workers, unions, brands, and suppliers behind one common mission of creating a safer and more reliable clothing industry.

For broader, systemic change to actually occur, large and influential brands and retailers need to support legislation and binding agreements that hold fashion companies themselves mutually accountable for the human rights and environmental impacts along their supply chains.

Due to the nature of sourcing, Accord-covered factories may produce for both signatory and non-signatory fashion brands. For example, 30 out of 33 of Amazon’s textile and garment suppliers in Bangladesh and Pakistan are covered by the Accord’s safety standards. And yet, Amazon itself refuses to sign the agreement for either country. 

In these cases, the non-signatory brands benefit from the Accord’s presence without sharing in the financial responsibility for keeping their workers safe. These brands are free-riding off of the Accord’s protections, letting others shoulder the costs while touting their own reputations as ethical companies. 

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 human rights promises.

Information and steps on how to become an Accord signatory can be found here.

Below are the major brands with a significant sourcing presence in Pakistan, who have yet to sign on:

  • Amazon
  • Columbia Sportswear
  • Decathlon
  • IKEA
  • JCPenney
  • Kontoor Brands (Wrangler, Lee, Rock & Republic)
  • Levi Strauss & Co.
  • Target (USA)
  • Tom Tailor
  • URBN (Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People)
  • Walmart

Keep up with signatory progress using Remake’s Accord Brand Tracker and follow our Campaign to learn how you can take action.