According to trade union sources, here global unions and fashion brands and retailers have reached agreement on a new International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. The unions say the new deal copper fastens the Accord until the end of the decade, strengthens the complaint mechanism for workers, and includes commitments for an expansion into other countries.
The three-year legally binding agreement, which is effective from 1 November 2023, automatically renews after three years without the need for negotiations. Brands commit to continue the health and safety programs in Bangladesh and Pakistan, and to establish programmes in other countries. Conditions for expansion to other countries are based on feasibility studies and progress in the Accord’s existing country programs.
The complaints mechanism will be expanded to include non-occupational safety and health issues, including freedom of association, following a pilot study. Under the new framework, the International Accord will act as a stand-alone framework agreement, with addendums for each country’s safety program. All brands sourcing from these countries are invited to sign these addendums in addition to the International Accord. The Agreement will be implemented through the International Accord Foundation and its secretariat, based in Amsterdam, as well as country offices.
In Bangladesh, over the past several weeks there have been violent clashes between the police and workers demanding pay increases. In response, a panel of factory owners, government officials, and union leaders agreed to push up the minimum wage by 56% to 12,500 taka ($114) a month from December 1, the first increase in five years, which the government has signed off on.
Factory owners are now asking clients to help pay for the increase by bumping up prices. An employer spokesperson told Reuters that the pay increase, which comes ahead of a January general election, could be a "disaster" for an industry that accounts for almost 16% of GDP and generates more than $40 billion a year in export receipts here.
The brands and retailers signed up to the deal are mostly European, with very few US companies included. While the Accord has seen improvements in factory safety in Bangladesh, it does not seem to have given a boost to union membership in the country or to the development of collective bargaining structures. Neither does it seem to have helped to eliminate gender pay discrimination nor sexual harassment, as a recent report from a team at Cornel University argues.
Whether it can contribute to the economic viability of the industry in Bangladesh remains to be seen.