Ten years after the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, where 1,132 people lost their lives in a senseless garment factory collapse, the landmark Bangladesh Accord has played a pivotal role in reforming the fashion industry and making it a safer, more humane place for garment workers. And the Accord has, as of 2023, expanded into Pakistan, where many more garment workers will be protected. To help the public better understand what the Accord means, what it promises, why it’s so important, and how citizens can help encourage more brands to sign, Remake has compiled this list of frequently asked questions on the Bangladesh Accord, the International Accord, and the Pakistan Accord.
What is the Accord?
The Accord (or Bangladesh Accord, International Accord, Pakistan Accord) is a set of legally-binding agreements between global unions, IndustriALL and UNI Global Union, and various brands and retailers to make garment factories safe and healthy places to work. The first Accord, the Bangladesh Accord, launched in the aftermath of the worst industrial accident in fashion history, the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster. The Accord has been hugely impactful, protecting the lives of 2.7 garment makers in 1,600 factories in Bangladesh through factory inspections, upgrades, and training, putting a stop to the cycle of fires, building collapses and other accidents that senselessly take garment makers’ lives.
The Accord agreement was first signed in May of 2013 between unions and more than 200 global apparel brands, including H&M, Zara, American Eagle, PVH (parent company to Tommy Hilfiger), C&A, UNIQLO, Primark, and Adidas. The Accord first expired in 2018, but a successor Accord agreement was extended again until 2021. In August of 2021, the Accord was extended and expanded into the International Accord. And in December of 2022, it was announced that the Accord will expand into Pakistan, offering protections to more workers.
When and why was the Accord developed, and what is the Rana Plaza disaster?
On 24 April 2013, the eight-story Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed with thousands of people inside. At least 1,134 people died and thousands more were injured. It is the worst industrial disaster in the history of the fashion industry, and it came on the heels of several other deadly factory accidents, including the Tazreen and Ali Enterprises factory fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan respectively. According to Clean Clothes Campaign, some of the brands that produced apparel in factories in Rana Plaza include Primark, Benetton, Joe Fresh, Bonmarche, Kik, The Children’s Place, Cato, and Mango,
Disasters like Rana Plaza, Tazreen and Ali Enterprises are entirely preventable. Garment makers were forced back to work at Rana Plaza even though they knew the building was cracking and structurally unsound after they were threatened by management with lost wages. Brands has also audited the building within the prior months and deemed it safe, despite evidence to the contrary. Rana Plaza made it clear that the fashion industry needed a bold, systemic solution to unsafe working conditions in the form of a legally binding agreement, which committed brands to work with factories and unions to improve working conditions. The Accord was signed within a month of the Rana Plaza travesty. The result was eight years of extraordinary progress, with the Worker Rights Consortium estimating that hundreds, quite possibly thousands, of lives spared.
What has the Accord achieved? HOW ARE FACTORIES SAFER TODAY BECAUSE OF THE ACCORD?
It’s important to celebrate the dramatic progress made by the Accord. The initial inspection of Bangladesh’s factories back in 2013 found more than 87,000 safety issues, including more than 50 factories that were at immediate risk of collapsing. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, founded in May 2013, was the first modern legally-binding safety agreement between workers, factory managers, and apparel companies that required brands and retailers to:
- Open their supplier factories to fully independent inspections by qualified experts and engineers
- Allow the results of these inspections to be reported publicly, in a searchable database
- Help pay for essential safety renovations
- Train workers and management in factory safety
- Stop doing business with any factories that fail to make needed safety repairs
- Establish an independent complaint process for health and safety issues
Additionally, the Accord also includes an enforcement mechanism by which legal action can be brought against non-compliant signatories.
The Accord has provided building and fire safety inspections, training and remediated safety problems in 1,687 factories in Bangladesh to date. More than 38,000 initial and follow-up inspections have been conducted for fire, electrical and structural safety. By 2018, the vast majority, 85% of all the original hazards identified had been eliminated. Today, more than 90% of factories found to have safety problems have remediated and corrected those problems.
It’s estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of lives, have been saved in Bangladesh by the Accord.
WHY IS A LEGALLY BINDING AGREEMENT KEY TO KeepING Garment Makers Safe?
The Accord is extremely effective at protecting workers’ lives and well-being for a few key reasons. Most importantly, the Accord is legally binding (meaning it has a contract behind it obligating its participants to fulfill their responsibilities) and it’s enforceable against individual brands, meaning brands can be held responsible if they don’t follow through. The Accord has teeth and real consequences for brands that don’t comply with its conditions to help upgrade factories and make them safe. Under the Accord contract, brands can even be sued in court by unions if they break their promises. In fact, several brands have been sued since the Accord’s inception to remedy life-threatening workplace hazards. Voluntary initiatives have in the past been unable to prevent mass casualties in apparel factories, and the Accord by contrast proved what’s possible with a contract between brands, unions, and suppliers.
WHAT IS THE PAKISTAN ACCORD? IS IT DIFFERENT THAN THE ORIGINAL?
The Pakistan Accord is a new legally-binding agreement that will extend the landmark worker safety program, which started in Bangladesh in 2013, into Pakistan in 2023. 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 covers a broader array of health and safety issues (not just building and fire safety) and it extends to factories in the textile sector.
According to Christie Miedema, Campaign and Outreach coordinator for CCC, the new Accord complaint mechanism is “able to respond to any health and safety complaints, not only building safety and fire. Workers have complained about things like excessive overtime, which constitutes a health risk, as well as lack of maternity leave and other health related issues,” including, beginning in 2020, COVID related issues.
These broader protections are key to protecting workers in Pakistan. According to a 2022 Clean Clothes Campaign report, which surveyed workers in Pakistan that work for brands such as Levi’s, Primark, and Gap Inc., health and wellbeing problems are rife in the industry. The report found that:
- Nearly 50% of workers are denied regular rest breaks, safe drinking water and clean bathrooms.
- 74% experience verbal abuse.
- 80% work in tiring, painful or awkward positions.
- One in five over 30 experience bone, joint or muscle problems.
- 65% of women workers say their job makes them feel miserable most or all of the time.
- 44% of women workers have experienced a workplace accident in the last year, including fainting, heat exhaustion, or suffocation.
- One in ten women have noticed large cracks in the buildings where they work.
The new Accord provides a strong new worker complaint mechanism as well, where workers can “raise concerns about health and safety risks in a timely fashion, safely and confidentially.” Signatories are required to support the complaint process and comply with the outcomes of the worker complaint process.
WHAT WAS THE INDUSTRY LIKE BEFORE THE ACCORD?
According to the Worker Rights Consortium, an NGO witness signatory to the Accord:
“Prior to the Accord, practically no export garment factory in Bangladesh had a functioning emergency exit. Indeed, the Accord’s engineers found that across the 1,600 factories they inspected, most of which are located in multi-story buildings, that there were virtually zero fire exits. Most factories had collapsible metal gates on each floor, which don’t do anything to prevent smoke from engulfing an entire floor. Even worse, many of these gates were typically locked, causing workers to be trapped inside during fires. A crucial result of the Accord’s inspections is that now these have been replaced with fire-proof doors that swing outward so that workers won’t be trapped.
The Accord’s inspections have uncovered close to 130,000 safety violations, ranging from structural damage to unsafe fire escape routes. To date, the vast majority of these safety hazards have been eliminated.
What brands have committed to the PakIStan Accord?
As of January 31, 2023, H&M, Inditex (Zara), C&A, Bestseller, and PVH *Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger) are among the companies that have officially signed 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. Below are some of the companies who signed the International Accord, and thus are expected to sign the Pakistan Accord as well. Keep up with the most updated list here.
WHY WAS PAKISTAN CHOSEN TO BE THE LOCATION OF THE NEW ACCORD?
Pakistan was chosen both because there is an urgent need for workplace health and safety improvements in the country and because many Accord signatories produce clothes in Pakistan and expressed a desire to see the program expanded there. During the consideration process, Joris Oldenziel, Deputy Director of the International Accord Foundation, who also spoke during the CCC media briefing on the International Accord, said that: “[Given] the history [the International Accord Secretariat] has of engagement with stakeholders from Pakistan, interest from Accord brands—many brands expressed interest — to have the Accord also operate in Pakistan, it makes a lot of sense for us to at least also look at Pakistan as a priority country.”
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 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, there has already been campaigning in Pakistan from labor groups demanding the Accord’s presence.
Remake has another in-depth article on the worker rights issues in Pakistan and their connection to the Accord.
What was the goal of the most recent Accord campaign to renew the agreement? What were the demands?
In 2021, as the Bangladesh Accord agreement neared its end, unions once again joined with civil society to call to extend the Accord into a new garment-producing country, so that the progress of the Accord could be expanded to other garment workers. Remake joined calls for this new agreement to preserve the original Accord’s individual brand accountability and independent secretariat. In August of 2021, an interim agreement called the International Accord committed brands to extend the agreement with these points, and the Accord Steering committee began feasibility studies in other garment-producing countries to see where the program might operate next. Remake kept up the pressure on brands like Levi’s to sign the International Accord, as many other companies willingly committed to the new agreement. As of November of 2022, 190 companies signed the International Accord. Here’s the full list. In December of 2022, it was announced the Accord would expand into Pakistan.
Why target Levi’s?
Throughout 2022, Remake targeted Levi’s to sign the International Accord for a few reasons: The first is that Levi’s is a big brand that produces a lot of product in Bangladesh and Pakistan, where the Accord was eyeing expansion. Having Levi’s support for the Accord would ensure that the most number of workers and factories are covered. What’s more, while Levi’s advertises itself as socially responsible and says that its own safety program is sufficient, this isn’t the case. In early 2022, four garment workers that make denim for Levi’s died in a factory accident in Pakistan due to a poisonous gas leak that was preventable. According to worker testimony provided to Remake and research by Clean Clothes Campaign, Levi’s garment workers in Bangladesh and Pakistan routinely experience heat exhaustion to the point of fainting, serious injurious, and harassment. While health and safety problems are found in the supply chain of many major brands, Levi’s has so far refused to join calls to join an effective safety program with a track record to alleviate these problems: The Accord.
HOW Are brands LIKE LEVI’S AND JACK WOLFSKIN that have refused to sign ON free riding off the Accord?
A number of brands who have not joined the Accord are free riding off the work of the Accord by manufacturing in factories that have made substantial safety renovations as a result of the Accord program while supplying Accord signatory brands. An example of this free rider problem is the German brand Jack Wolfskin, which refused to sign the Accord, stating that they only source from Accord covered factories so they are “fine.”
Why are some brands resistant to SIGNING the Accord?
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 failed to prevent Rana Plaza before.
Should we be pressuring other companies to support the Accord?
Yes! If you want to pressure more brands, here is the full list of who has and has not signed the International Accord.
What other organizations support the Accord? DO WORKERS AND UNIONS SUPPORT IT?
The Accord has broad international support. In addition to global labor rights organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign, which has led the #ProtectProgress campaign for years, global unions IndustriALL and UNI Global Union support The Accord, as do local unions and factory-level worker groups in Bangladesh representing hundreds of thousands of workers, including Awaj Foundation and Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity. Even politicians support the Accord: Recently Agnes Jongerius, a Member of European Parliament for the Netherlands (S&D), issued a strong statement in support of extending and expanding the Agreement.
How involved are local unions versus global unions?
The International Accord is signed with the IndustriALL Global Union (which represents the voices of its affiliated unions in Bangladesh) and UNI Global Union. Already, for years prior to the formation of the Accord, garment workers and their local unions in Bangladesh had drawn attention to the widespread safety hazards in the industry and the growing death toll among garment workers due to preventable safety incidents, calling on brands to sign such a binding agreement. On social media, you can find photos of demonstrations throughout the years by garment worker unions in Bangladesh urging brands to sign the Accord under the hashtags #SignTheAccord, #ProtectProgress, and #RanaPlazaNeverAgain.
Which brands can join THE ACCORD?
All apparel and/or textile brands and retailers that produce in the country covered by an Accord agreement can join, including Bangladesh and Pakistan.
How do brands sign the Accord?
Brands that want to commit to the safety of the garment workers in their supply chain can sign the Accord by visiting https://internationalaccord.org/join.
How much does each brand pay to join the Accord?
Brands contribute on a sliding scale based on the number of factories and the volume of production that they have in Bangladesh. These membership dues, capped at $350,000 a year, cover inspections and trainings, as well as the complaint mechanisms and the cost of administration.
HOW CAN YOU TAKE ACTION? HOW CAN consumers help ensure a favorite brand joins the Accord?
Follow Remake’s Accord Campaigns page for ways to take action, including writing emails to brands, firing off a Tweet to a brand, or organizing a letter drop or demonstration.
Why should the Accord continue? Aren’t factories safe now?
Unfortunately, many of the same conditions that led to Rana Plaza still exist in the fashion industry, including hyper-competitive pricing that encourages factories to cut corners on safety. Without the Accord, the threat is that brands will no longer be responsible for addressing safety hazards in factories where our clothes are made. We risk the occurrence of conditions rolling back and of another Rana Plaza factory collapse, and we will miss the opportunity to protect progress and actually improve working conditions in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
What’s more, the work is not done. A recent report by the Clean Clothes Campaign showed that significant safety issues, including blocked exits and missing sprinkler systems, remain in some factories in Bangladesh making clothes for major brands, including H&M, Bestseller, C&A, Joe Fresh, and PVH, among others. Unsafe working conditions continue to kill garment workers in other countries. 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 8 people killed in a collapse later that month in the same country show the urgent need for brands to commit to not only extend but expand the Accord to other nations.
Last but not least, the Accord is effective. That alone is a reason to keep its life-saving safety measures in place and protect progress.
I have more questions and I want to know more. Where can I get answers?
- The Clean Clothes Campaign, a witness signatory to the Accord, has an extensive Q&A on the Accord available here.
- The Worker Rights Consortium, witness signatory on the Accord, has an extensive list of reports and memos about the Bangladesh Accord. Their latest update on the Accord is also very helpful reading.
- The campaign website RanaPlazaNeverAgain.org also has Action Kits, FAQs and a petition that goes to a number of brands asking them to protect progress.