In recent weeks, Remake and PayUp Fashion have flooded executive inboxes at Zara, H&M, and Tommy Hilfiger, calling on the global giants to renew the Accord. Signed in 2013 after the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the historic Accord on Fire and Building Safety has made 1,600 factories employing 2 million workers safer over 8 years. But the work is far from done.
As a new report by the Worker Rights Consortium and other Accord witness signatories shows, despite significant progress, life-threatening safety issues still exist in some Bangladeshi factories, including in dozens of factories that produce clothing for Inditex, Zara’s parent company. What’s more, a renewed Accord must be expanded into other countries, like India, Morocco, and Pakistan, where garment makers still routinely die or face injuries at work.
The Accord was extended for three months on May 31, 2021, leaving citizens until August 31 to urge brands via emails and social media posts to sign a new agreement. Last month, H&M responded to citizens’ queries with a disappointing response that refused to directly answer questions, namely whether it supports a new Accord agreement that is as strong and effective as the original. Zara by contrast wrote back saying it “strongly supports” a new agreement that is enforceable for individual brands, inspiring hope that, with continued citizen pressure, the global fast fashion giant could lead the way in a strong new Accord agreement, protecting garment maker lives. As the brand as not signed a new agreement yet, Zara needs more citizen pressure to put its words into action.
Below, you can read Zara’s response to our emails, with PayUp Fashion’s comments immediately following. Make sure to scroll down to the e-mail templates and Action Kit to get involved in the campaign to renew the Accord. Zara’s response shows that citizen pressure has power, and it’s crucial to keep it up.
To date, several global brands, including ASOS, G-Star, Zeeman, Tchibo and Kik have made public commitments to the Accord, stating that a new agreement must be binding and individually enforceable upon brands, overseen by an independent secretariat and allow for expansion to other countries.
RESPONSE FROM ZARA (INDITEX):
Thank you for contacting us. We hope you are well and safe, too.
As a signatory of this Interim Agreement, we believe it marks a key step that shows our commitment and that of Global Union Federations, to continue to work together in Bangladesh, to guarantee a safe and sustainable garment manufacturing industry. This extension provides (1) a vital opportunity for the parties to continue negotiating towards a Successor Agreement to ensure that we will continue to work alongside the unions within the RSC beyond August 31, 2021.
We, along with unions, agree on the importance of the RSC and its independence from any external supervision. Both unions and brands, as well as the industry association, are equally represented on the board of directors. This guarantees an appropriate structure that fairly addresses the challenges that arise internally, building on the progress made in recent years.
(2) We strongly support establishing a new agreement with clear accountability on all parties, which is enforceable for individual brands, with this independent oversight. We also see the opportunity for the RSC to become an industry standard to ensure worker safety throughout Bangladesh’s garment sector now and in the future. While our intentions are clear, the exact details of the enforcement of the policies and protocols inherited by the RSC are being discussed among representatives from the unions and brands as part of the ongoing negotiations.
With regards to your final point, (3) the expansion of fire and building safety programs to other countries is currently on the negotiating table. We must be cognizant of the need to ensure a strong, sustainable continuation of the work of the Accord in Bangladesh through the RSC. We also agree that we should explore the expansion of fire and building safety programs to other countries by defining a roadmap with the unions to address this matter as part of the Successor Agreement.
As a neutral convener, the ILO is supporting the RSC discussions and helping union and brand representatives strengthen their collaboration to build the path forward. We are hopeful that this will allow us to move towards a final agreement soon that will continue our work together to ensure secure long-term fire, building and electrical safety.
Inditex Sustainability Department
PayUp Fashion’s Comments:
(1) Compared to H&M, Zara is making a clear commitment to signing a Successor Agreement, which is another phrase brands are using for the new binding agreement to follow the Accord. This is a strong statement and, with public pressure, hopefully they will follow through on it. It’s important to remember that committing via email is not the same as the brands actually signing onto a binding agreement. So, until the ink is dry on a new Accord agreement, it’s important to keep pushing the company.
(2) Here, Zara makes a clear commitment to individual accountability for brands. This is very important, as the individual accountability for brands is exactly what made the Accord so successful. Other brands have suggested moving to a workplace safety system using a broader Brand Association where no single company is accountable. That would dramatically weaken the Accord.
(3) This is where Zara needs to be much clearer. Expansion of the life-saving Accord program into new countries is sorely needed and should therefore be laid down in the binding agreement.