A watchdog group that represents some of the world’s best-known apparel brands will be allowed to monitor garment manufacturers in Bangladesh for workplace safety for at least another year under a new ruling by the nation’s Supreme Court.
The ruling, handed down Sunday, will allow the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to maintain its office and operations in Bangladesh for 281 working days (more than 56 weeks) – effective earlier this month – officials from both sides and the government said.
By accepting a memorandum of understanding between the Accord and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the Supreme Court overruled a ruling from the lower High Court that would have shut down the Accord’s operation.
The garment industry is the biggest sector of Bangladesh’s economy and employs more than 4 million people, but questions about workplace safety have overshadowed it in the wake of massive industrial disasters.
“The poor workplace safety allegations have already ceased as factories have already completed more than 92 percent of remediation,” BGMEA President Rubana Huq told BenarNews as she welcomed the ruling and applauded previous efforts by the Accord.
The Accord, which represents leading brand names including H&M, Marks & Spencer, and United Colors of Benetton has been overseeing reforms in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment sector. It was established after the November 2012 Tazreen Fashions garment factory fire that killed 112 workers and the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory complex in April 2013 that killed more than 1,100 workers, in the deadliest industrial accident in Bangladesh’s history.
Additional Attorney General Murad Reza said the court had asked BGMEA to reach an agreement with the Accord, which claims to represent 190 brands, 1,600 factories and 2 million workers.
“The court gave Accord the time extension. The government welcomes such a verdict,” Reza said.
That agreement includes establishing a national ready-made garments (RMG) safety entity to be called RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), according to the Accord.
“After the transition period of 281 working days, the RSC will take over all Accord Bangladesh operations and will inherit the Accord infrastructure and staff,” it said in a news release. The 281-day count began on May 8.
The RSC will be governed by representatives of BGMEA, the global brands represented by the Accord and global and national trade unions.
“We are happy because this verdict paves the way to our self-monitoring,” Huq, the BGMEA president, said. “Standards have been set and by transitioning into this new agreement, we will transition into self-monitoring.”
The Accord said that while the agreement was in place, it would work with BGMEA on its core functions including inspections and remediation, safety training, complaint resolution and public reporting.
The agreement emphasizes that workers have the right to organize and join unions, local media reported, adding that it links employee empowerment to workplace safety for the first time.