The Clean Clothes Campaign has offered a detailed response to my blog last week in which I criticised the actions of the garment industry thus far in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh.
I am very happy to publish the Clean Clothes Campaign’s defence of the garment industry accord, and hope this issue continues to get the global attention it deserves. The CCC response is published in full below. To learn more about the Clean Clothes Campaign, please visit their website and follow them on social media.
Your article raises some interesting thoughts and highlights the serious problems within the Bangladesh garment industry. Ultimately some of the questions you raise are also answered by the analysis you give.
The suggestion for major brands to work with 'reputable' manufacturers is hindered by the fact, as you yourself point out, that corruption and collusion is endemic in Bangladesh. It is also unrealistic to expect brands to find suppliers that “charge more for their products but who can at least guarantee the health and safety of their employees” when this model is sadly rarely followed in any garment producing industry by the big brands.
This Accord is significant in that it requires companies to pay the cost of providing for better health and safety of the workers AND crucially to ensure that the brand negotiates commercial terms which enable the factory to provide a safe environment. Typically suppliers are squeezed by short order terms, fast turnaround and extremely low profit margins resulting in the squeeze being placed on worker's salaries and health and safety expenditure.
The Accord provides for the establishment of health and safety committees with at least a 50% worker participation (democratically elected) as well as a complaint mechanism, independent and credible inspections. In addition should any factories be required to close for repairs for up to six months, the workers employment relationship and wages shall continue to be paid by the supplier factory. Should any workers be laid off as a result of the programme then workers will be sought employment at other suppliers – if necessary by preferential hiring. All workers have the right to refuse work that they consider unsafe.
Brands signing onto the Accord are required to make public all suppliers, including sub-contractors, make public inspection reports and commit to contribute funding for the programme relative to their respective volume of garment production in Bangladesh. This marks a significant step forward both in terms of Bangladesh industry, but also more generally towards transparency of the supply chain in the garment industry and a tracking of suppliers and sub-contractors – these are essential in promoting safe work and better working conditions.
The Accord is – trying to clear up the mess – created by decades of dealing with irresponsible factory owners but it is doing so by seeking to address some of the root causes of how and why this situation developed and that includes placing a large part of the responsibility on the brands who previously have shown little inclination to remedy the race to the bottom but instead have caused it. This is a far more concrete solution than for brands to chase the mythical set of 'reputable business partners” without any leverage placed on the brands to ensure fair supply chain relations and improve the representation of workers inside the factories. As CLB itself knows the role of the workers within the workplace is key.
The Accord is signed by many of the world's biggest garment brands reaching over 1,000 supplier factories in Bangladesh. The Accord is legally binding and subject to arbitration in a court of law in the domicile of one of the signatory brands. This is – we believe – a key departure for the effective implementation of previously voluntary projects and promises and will produce a model which could be developed in other garment producing countries. The full text of the Accord is found here.
We welcome CLB to read it carefully in the light of a measured analysis of the garment industry both in Bangladesh but also in China and globally. It is not perfect but such a legally binding agreement between trade unions on the ground and globally, between suppliers and brands can only help develop a situation where workers are paid a living wage and work in safe environments.