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April 24th will mark 10 years since the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing at least 1,132 people and injuring more than 2,500. The event brought global attention to the inadequacy of social audit systems, which lacked guidance on basic health and safety measures; and the role businesses must play in accountability and responsibility for remedy in complex and multi-layered supply chains.
Following the collapse, several apparel brands signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (the Accord). Unlike other initiatives, the Accord is legally binding, ensuring commercial terms allow for effective remediation within the garment industry.
A report by London School of Economics suggests the initiative improved safety as well as guaranteeing work in a region which risked further poverty if brands exited. Worker engagement and grievance mechanism support have been key pillars to its success alongside increased inspections. The Accord is now an international programme with a view to expand to other countries.
However, the main criticism of the Accord is the reliance on suppliers to implement expensive safety measures and remediation plans, with no additional financial support from major brands. The response has also been criticised for focusing solely on worker safety, ignoring other issues such as wages being too low to eat, sexual harassment and restrictions on trade unions; conditions which can enable exploitation. Paying fairer wages, providing training and ensuring worker safety are only possible if the amount paid for garments accounts for these costs.
Although progress has been made in the 10 years since the collapse, much can still be learned from the successes as well as the shortcomings of the Accord. It has shown how multi-stakeholder initiatives with clear objectives and accountability can be successful and should be applied to other factory-reliant sectors.
It has also revealed the fundamental importance of long-term investment within procurement practices to ensure these initiatives last. Implementing large scale changes and increasing expectations for suppliers must be accompanied with implementation advice, financial assistance and paying a fair price for the products that reflects the expected increased wages and better working conditions.
With families still impacted by the collapse, it is crucial we respect and honour the workers who lost their lives by learning from this disaster and taking responsibility to uphold worker safety.
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