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DHAKA – The Bangladesh government has been accused of trying to water down the Bangladesh Accord by attempting to impose restrictive constraints that strip it of its independence. After this week’s Supreme Court hearing on the Accord’s continuation was once again adjourned, it has been claimed the government has now stated that the Accord should only be allowed to continue operations in Bangladesh under constraints which strip the safety initiative of its ability to “operate independently of government and employer control.”

“It is our position that accord cannot function if these conditions are imposed on it and we have made that clear to brands,” Jenny Holdcroft, assistant general secretary with the IndustriALL Global Union told Apparel Insider. “We believe the constraints would be too much and would completely destroy the Accord’s independence.”

Among government conditions are that the Accord decisions would be subject to the approval of a government committee, while another condition prohibits Accord inspectors from identifying any new safety violations, effectively requiring them to ignore hazards found during their inspections, such as faulty alarm systems, blocked fire exits, and cracks in structural columns. Another condition prevents the Accord from taking any action against factory owners who threaten or fire workers for raising safety complaints.

The global union signatories to the Accord – IndustriALL and UNI – and the four witness signatories – Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network, and Worker Rights Consortium – have now called on Bangladesh’s trading partners and global apparel brands to press the government of Bangladesh to refrain from imposing these conditions on the Accord.

Asked whether the Bangladesh Accord would leave the country if it had to operate under the constraints proposed by the government, Holdcroft told us any decisions on such issues are made by the Bangladesh Accord steering committee. “If such conditions were imposed, we would have to have a discussion,” she told us. “But as the labour representation on the committee, our position is that operating under such constraints would not be possible.”

What next?

The Accord has committed to handing over its functions to a suitable national regulatory body, however, it is claimed the government’s Remediation and Coordination Cell (RCC) is still in an early stage of development and is not yet ready to perform the inspection tasks of the Accord.

The Accord is committed to building up the capacity of the RCC and to cooperation with the government and its inspection bodies to ensure a smooth transition.

Another court hearing will take place next Monday and there is still extensive room for negotiation on this issue. However, with national elections imminent in Bangladesh on December 30, there is every chance that the government will play for time and attempt to put off a decision about the Accord’s future until after that date, for fear that a decision – either way – could negatively impact the election result.

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