Poverty wages and unsafe working conditions are widespread within the garment industry. These conditions are only further exacerbated by international and Australian brands that seek out the lowest production costs in countries with weak workers’ rights protections and enforcement.
The Rana Plaza Disaster: A turning point for worker’s safety
The Rana Plaza factory disaster in April 2013, which led to the death of over 1,000 garment workers and injured over 2,500, marked a critical turning point for garment workers’ rights. The disaster led to the development of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (The Bangladesh Accord). This ground-breaking agreement placed legal obligations on big fashion brands to uphold worker safety.
The Bangladesh Accord required that brands:
- Enable independent building inspections on fire, electrical and structural safety;
- Publish the results of safety inspections;
- Contribute resources towards safety repairs;
- Ensure fire and building and safety trainings for workers; and
- Stop working with suppliers that do not uphold safety standards.
Over 220 brands signed the accord, including H&M, Target, The Just Group and Cotton On. They all agreed for the first time to legal binding safety commitments. This marked the start of the long journey towards meaningful progress in reforming global fashion’s supply chain.
The 2013 Accord and the 2018 Transition Accord have been pivotal in ensuring the safety of garment workers, saving countless lives. Inspections uncovered over 130,000 safety violations, from structural damage to unsafe fire escape routes. A large majority of these safety hazards have since been fixed.
Both Accords have since expired and a new agreement has been in place since September 2021, the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry (the International Accord).
The International Accord builds on the Bangladesh Accord and is crucial in ensuring that existing safety gains are maintained, and more action is taken to protect the lives and safety of garment workers across Bangladesh. The Accord also seeks to empower workers and local trade unions by informing them about their rights to safe and healthy workplace alongside providing workers with complaint mechanisms for reporting unsafe workplaces.
The mandate of the International Accord is also broader because it has the potential to expand beyond Bangladesh to at least one other country.
The International Accord: Which brands have signed, and which have not?
Over 170 International and Australian fashion brands have signed the International Accord, including fashion staples like Big W, Country Road and Cotton On. However, some much-loved Aussie brands are yet to sign.
The Iconic, a fashion company known for its sustainability credentials and whose clothes make a regular appearance in the closets of most 20-something in Australia, has not signed the International Accord. The Iconic has three factories in Bangladesh, adding an urgency to our demands that the company take immediate steps to sign the International Accord.
Best&Less, a popular choice among Aussie mothers for baby and children’s clothes, is another Australian brand that is lagging behind on ensuring the safety of women garment workers. With 14 supplier factories in Bangladesh, it is critical that Best&Less prioritise workers’ safety and sign the International Accord.
Everyone has the right to go to work without fearing for their safety or their life. The Iconic and Best&Less must sign the International Accord today to protect the safety of the women making their clothes.
ActionAid stands in solidarity with women on the frontlines of injustice. Will you join us? Take action today and urge the Iconic and Best&Less to protect the safety of women garment workers.