Top brands likely to be forced to stop sourcing from Bangladesh

Prothom Alo English Desk | Update:

Workers at a factory. File PhotoFast fashion brands might need to stop sourcing from Bangladesh. Watchdog group that has been working to improve Bangladesh garment factories could close as soon as next week, according to FashionUnited. 

The UK-based fashion news site adds that after the tragic Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 in which over 1,100 garment workers were killed, a five-year accord was put in place to improve working conditions in Bangladesh’s factories.
Called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, over 200 global firms and retailers including H&M and Zara signed the accord.
Since the disaster five years ago, the accord has inspected over two thousand factories and comprised a detailed plan to repair over 150 thousand structural and safety concerns.
However, a complaint was recently made by a factory owner and the High Court has now ordered the Accord on Fire and Building Safety to close its Dhaka office, reports the FashionUnited.
The complaining factory owner had been accused by the group of falsifying test results on the strength of his factory’s structure. “The premature shut down of the accord, leaving workers in unsafe circumstances, would jeopardize the brands’ ability to source from a safe industry,” the accord’s deputy director Joris Oldenziel told Reuters.
The group has been lobbying the government to lift the court order. If nothing changes, the accord will continue to operate from the Netherlands, and the companies who have signed it will still be legally bound.
The signatories would no longer be able to source from hundreds of Bangladeshi factories with safety issues if the accord can no longer monitor inspections.
This would mean that fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M who use these factories due to the low wages in the area would have to find new sourcing solutions.
"If the Supreme Court rules against the accord, it will have to scale back operations, exposing global brands to heightened risks. Global apparel brands cannot afford to risk another factory disaster. As of mid-November, more than 500 factories reportedly risked losing business from accord brands if they did not expedite repairs to make their premises safe for workers by the end of this month. But without the accord, the robust monitoring and follow-up cannot happen," said Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel of Women's Rights Division in a write published by Human Rights Watch.
"The Bangladesh government and industry associations can’t tell the courts how to rule, but they can and should let the court know that they support the accord. Instead of opposing the appeal, the country’s powerful industry associations should petition the court to extend the accord. It is their responsibility to protect factory workers’ safety but is also in their own self-interest from a business viewpoint to do so.
"For its part, the Bangladesh government should bring key facts to the court’s attention. Since May 2017, the government’s Remediation Coordination Cell has made progress in developing its capacity. But it still does not match the accord’s capacity or infrastructure. It certainly cannot absorb all of the accord’s work starting in December. Building its capacity will take years and needs careful planning and resources. The alternative risks leaving workers to toil in unsafe factories, thereby and potentially undoing all the accord’s successes and prompting international brands to take their business elsewhere.
"The accord has caused consternation among many Bangladeshi factories. Because of its collective brand power and legally binding nature, factories failing to take time-bound corrective action are eventually terminated from the accord’s programme.
"Termination is akin to being blacklisted. Once terminated, none of the more than 200 Accord brands can do business with the factory. This model of collective business consequences for non-compliant factories disrupted the cushy culture of business as usual for brands and factories.
"Yet, the anger felt by Bangladeshi manufacturers is not entirely unreasonable. While brands have put their collective weight behind a much-needed credible fire and building safety program, their contribution to the costs of social and labor compliance has been entirely inadequate."
Shoppers in western Europe care how clothes are made and want to be kind to workers and the environment when they update their wardrobe, according to a survey released on Wednesday that shows public pressure on fashion to clean up its act.
Yet, the shoppers faced no questions about the cost of their conscience, with manufacturers caught in a tug of war between the allure of throwaway fashion versus the expense of ethics, reports Reuters.
"Brands tell us you can't trust consumers because they say one thing but then behave differently," said Rachel Wilshaw, ethical trade manager at British charity Oxfam.
"People will continue to be very price sensitive but if brands can find a way to offer a good product at a good price - and be transparent - I feel sure that that is going to matter more in the future," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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