Workplace Health and Safety
Despite the existence of national and international laws that protect workers’ right to safe and healthy working environments, factory conditions remain unsafe across the garment industry. Many of these safety and health hazards are longstanding. Some factories have lacked proper safety equipment for workers or exposed them to dangerous chemicals. Others have had unsafe electrical wiring, which increases the risk of fire—a danger often compounded by a lack adequate alarm systems and escape routes. And some factories, particularly in Bangladesh and across South Asia, are structurally unsound, which increases the risk of a building collapse like the one at Rana Plaza in 2013, which killed 1,134 workers.
Ensuring that factories have healthy and safe working conditions has always been part of the WRC’s investigative process, and continues to be a priority during the current pandemic. The WRC investigates worker reports of health and safety violations—from excessive temperatures inside factories to inadequate protection from dangerous chemicals—and presses brands and factory owners to ensure these hazards are corrected.
The International Safety Accord
The WRC had been urging multinational apparel brands to improve health and safety in Bangladesh garment factories for years when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013. Following that tragedy, the WRC helped lead the creation of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the first modern legally-binding commitment that requires brands to allow independent inspections of their supplier factories and to pay for crucial safety repairs. The Bangladesh Accord's successor agreement, the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry covers over two million workers in 1,600 factories and has 198 signatories.
Thanks to the Accord, more than 130,000 safety repairs have been made in more than a thousand factories across Bangladesh—and at least 50 extremely unsafe factories were evacuated, any one of which could have been the next Rana Plaza. Now, this proven model is being expanded into Pakistan, to address unsafe working conditions in the country's textile and apparel industry, with the formation of the Pakistan Accord in 2023, which has more than 70 signatories.
The WRC provides strategic and logistical support in implementing and enforcing the International Accord through our role as a witness signatory on the Accord Steering Committee, and through support to our labor and NGO allies.