Update on the Bangladesh Accord

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Laura Gutierrez
Date:June 3, 2021
Re:Update on the Bangladesh Accord

As we reported at the WRC annual university caucus meeting, the WRC has been involved in ongoing discussions with brands and unions about the future of the Bangladesh Accord, which was scheduled to expire at the beginning of this week. We write to update you on the current status, including an interim agreement just reached to extend the terms of the Accord for three more months.

Over the last two years, worker representatives have been advocating for the creation of a long-term successor agreement to the Accord. Despite the dramatic improvements in building safety that the Accord has achieved in Bangladesh, there are still factories where safety upgrades are incomplete and where workers remain at risk. A new agreement is needed to ensure that this unfinished safety work gets done, that the historic gains that have been achieved are maintained, and to create a platform for the Accord’s life-saving model to be expanded to other countries (in particular, other countries in the same region, such as India and Pakistan, where fires and structural collapses continue to threaten garment workers’ lives).

In order to be effective, a new agreement must preserve the essential elements of the Accord, including binding obligations for brands and truly independent oversight of brands’ and factories’ safety practices; however, some brands have been resistant to an agreement that contains these crucial features. To be blunt, some of the major brands in the Accord see the agreement’s expiration as an opportunity to avoid making a binding commitment to worker safety and return to the voluntary approach that prevailed in Bangladesh before the Accord—but had failed, repeatedly and tragically, to protect workers’ lives. Brands’ push for an agreement that would be unenforceable has blocked progress in negotiations.

The stakes are high and go far beyond Bangladesh. In the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse—the worst disaster in the history of manufacturing, with more than 1,100 workers killed—the Accord constituted a fundamental departure from the voluntary model of worker rights protection. Building on the example of the enforceable labor code of conduct standards that US and Canadian universities have put in their licensing agreements, the Accord, for the first time, made brands’ commitments to worker safety in Bangladesh binding and enforceable. The result has been eight years of extraordinary progress, with hundreds, quite possibly thousands, of lives saved. In view of it its success, the Accord model of enforceable labor standards should not only be continued in Bangladesh but expanded to other countries. The future of this innovative model thus hangs in the balance in these current negotiations.

Fortunately, with the Accord on the eve of expiration, negotiators for unions and brands were able to reach agreement last week to extend the existing Accord terms for three months, to allow more time for a successor agreement to be negotiated. This will maintain the brands’ binding obligations for worker safety in Bangladesh through August 31. We are hopeful that a new agreement, preserving the crucial provisions of the Accord and expanding its reach, can be achieved during this time frame. You can view the text of this brief agreement here and the overall Accord agreement here.

It is important to note that each individual Accord signatory brand will only remain part of the Accord if it individually signs the extension agreement. The agreement has been sent to every brand, including all of the collegiate licensees that are signatories (see the list at the end of this email), for their signature. We hope all licensees will promptly sign it. We will be reaching out to every relevant licensee, urging them to do so.

Many universities have policies requiring licensees that source from Bangladesh to be Accord signatories. To remain in compliance with such policies, licensees will need to sign the extension agreement.

We will update you soon on which licensees have signed the extension and on the progress of the ongoing negotiations.

Please let us know if you have any questions.

Licensees that are Signatories to the Accord

  • Alma Mater Wear
  • Cherokee Inc.
  • Fanatics
  • Fruit of the Loom Incorporated
  • H&M
  • Inditex
  • J2 Licensing, Inc
  • Knights Apparel
  • Mitchell & Ness LLC
  • New Wave Group
  • Outerstuff
  • Perrin, Inc
  • Top of the World by Fanatics, LLC.
  • W Republic Apparel
  • Zephyr Graf-X