European fashion brands who buy readymade garments from Bangladesh agreed on Tuesday to hand over responsibility for issues like worker safety to a new body called the Readymade Sustainability Council (RSC).
RSC, governed by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), and brands and workers' representatives, will replace the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to ensure compliance with work-place monitoring in the industry.
The Accord was set up by European brands to improve factory safety in Bangladesh after a garment factory complex collapsed in 2013, killing more than 1,100 people.
The five-year pact was originally due to expire in May 2018 but a longer transition period was agreed. Attempts by the Accord's members to extend its authority to operate were challenged in court by factory owners and the government set up its own body to take over its work.
"We could reach an agreement after two days of detailed discussions among us where almost all the representatives of fashion brand attended," said Rubana Huq, president of BGMEA.
"We have come together in good faith for a smooth transition from ACCORD to RSC and from now our formal journey has started," she said.
The RSC is an unprecedented national initiative, uniting industry, brands and trade unions to ensure a sustainable solution to carry forward the significant accomplishments made on workplace safety in Bangladesh, Huq said.
"The RSC will also encompass industrial relations, skill development and environmental standards," she added.
Low wages have helped Bangladesh build the world’s second-largest garment industry, behind China, with some 4,000 factories employing about 4 million workers.
Readymade garments are a mainstay of the economy, contributing almost 16 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and about $34 billion worth of exports in the last fiscal year ending in June 2019.
Bangladesh is among the world's largest exporters of apparel sold by Western companies like H&M, Adidas and Walmart, but the industry has been plagued by fires and explosions which have killed hundreds in recent years.
The Accord, signed by brands including H&M and Benetton, has been credited with improving factory safety in Bangladesh through inspections and funding.