WRC Welcomes Successor Worker Safety Agreement to Bangladesh Accord

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To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Laura Gutierrez
Date:August 25, 2021
Re:WRC Welcomes Successor Worker Safety Agreement to Bangladesh Accord

We are very happy to let you know that agreement has been reached to continue the work of the Bangladesh Accord. Language has just been finalized on a binding successor pact that will maintain fire and building safety efforts in Bangladesh and begin the process of expanding the life-saving Accord model to other countries where garment workers’ lives are at risk. The successor agreement will be known as the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry (the “International Accord”). 

University licensees sourcing from Bangladesh will have the opportunity, beginning this week, to become signatories to the successor agreement, thereby maintaining vital safety protections at their facilities in Bangladesh. Given that many universities require licensees sourcing from Bangladesh to be Accord signatories, we expect that most licensees will sign promptly. We are writing to licensees today to share the successor agreement, and we will advise you, on an ongoing basis, which licensees have signed. Importantly, only licensees that sign the International Accord will have access to the services of the RMG Sustainability Council, the Accord partner organization that now carries out its factory safety inspections in Bangladesh.

As you know, the prior Accord agreement expired in May, temporarily replaced by a short-term extension, and the reluctance of some leading apparel brands to renew their enforceable safety commitments had called into question the future of factory fire and building safety work in apparel supply chains. To their credit, key brands and retailers, who have been hearing from governments, human rights groups, and labor unions all over the world about the vital importance of this work, ultimately decided to move forward with this successor safety pact.

The International Accord—to which the WRC is a Witness Signatory, with observer status on the agreement’s oversight body—maintains the essential components of the Accord model. Signatory brands are obligated to keep all their supplier factories open to independent inspection; pay prices to suppliers sufficient to enable them to afford necessary renovations and maintain safe operations; and cease doing business with any factory that fails to comply with safety standards. These and all other brand commitments are legally enforceable.

Under the successor agreement, the Accord model, which has saved countless lives in Bangladesh, will be expanded to other countries. Most likely, Pakistan—a country with a grim history of mass fatality fires in textile factories—will be first. A feasibility study for expansion will begin immediately. When a safety program has been designed for Pakistan (or another country, if the choice is to expand elsewhere first), all brands sourcing from that country, including university licensees, will have the opportunity to participate. Universities will likely wish to consider whether to make their licensees’ participation mandatory, as many universities already have in the case of Bangladesh. We expect it will be at least a year before such a program is ready to be rolled out.

The Accord model, which draws heavily from the example of universities’ binding labor standards for licensees, has been the most successful labor rights program in the contemporary history of global apparel supply chains, protecting the safety of millions of workers in Bangladesh. The WRC is deeply heartened that the model will remain firmly in place in that country and that workers beyond Bangladesh will come under the model’s umbrella of safety in the years immediately ahead.

As with every labor rights initiative, continued success depends on compliance. The Accord’s ongoing effectiveness in Bangladesh, and the swiftness and efficacy of its expansion, depend on signatory brands honoring their commitments. That is why legal enforceability is so vital. And it is why the WRC is committed to maintaining its oversight role, through our participation in the successor agreement’s leadership body.

We will have more to report on the new International Accord in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, if you have any questions or would like to discuss any aspect of this update, please let us know.