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BERLIN – Working conditions and safety have dramatically improved in garment factories post-Rana Plaza as apparel brands cut ties with poor performing suppliers. New research shows brands cut ties with an average of 8 per cent of their suppliers per year between 2013 and 2013. The research also shows an increased cooperation with unions by brands and a formalisation of more robust industrial relations.

“With increased pressure to be publicly accountable for working conditions and other sustainability criteria during production, large brands and retailers are consolidating their supplier bases,” says the report. “Many brands and retailers have developed rigorous onboarding processes related to quality and labour standards which have increased the costs of working with new suppliers.”

Another key finding is that workers in Bangladeshi garment factories report improved working conditions since Rana Plaza. These changes are larger in factories associated with the Accord and the Alliance, with auditing for the Accord and Alliance is far more rigorous and better enforced than anything that preceded it.

“Factory managers now realise that non-compliance threatens the ability to export to Europe and the US,” says the report. “It may be this development has had spillover effects on improving compliance in areas not covered by these safety focused initiatives. Legal changes that followed Rana Plaza in areas such as worker voice and minimum wages may also be a factor leading to improvements, as well as the influence of other labour focused initiatives such as the ILO’s Better Work programme.”

Looking at the behaviour of large global garment buyers in five countries (Australia, Germany, Sweden, the UK and the US), the researchers found that they are experimenting with a variety of new approaches for managing labour standards that reach beyond the compliance model of auditing. Important changes include increased transparency, a consolidation of supply chains and the formation of collective governance initiatives.

One CSR manager with a UK based retailer said: ““I think the Accord’s a good example to where brands have woken up to the fact that actually working together, not just brands working with brands, but brands working with trade unions and civil society can create more change potentially … I think we’re still learning but I think the leverage that comes with working together is an important factor in getting people started on the journey.”

The report also suggests a notable development across many new private governance initiatives, particularly European companies, is greater cooperation with unions. The researchers claim garment brands and retailers are increasingly embracing arrangements that involve formalised industrial relations, both through signing global framework agreements with commitments covering their own supply chains and through broader agreements, such as the Accord and ACT that involve multiple brands and retailers making collective agreements with global unions.

The researchers carried out a survey of 1500 workers, 1000 women and 500 men, from 250 factories in and around Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. 83 per cent of the factories were affiliated either to the Accord or to both the Accord and the Alliance. Like the factory managers, workers reported that safety had improved.

Says the report: “An overwhelming majority of (96 per cent) workers in Accord and Alliance factories felt safe in their factory building, while 90 per cent reported that they could refuse to go into the factory if the building was perceived to be unsafe. Also, the vast majority (90 per cent)had received health and safety training. Accord and Alliance factories performed significantly better in this regard than factories outside these programmes.”

‘Changes in the Governance of Garment Global Production Networks: Lead Firm, Supplier and Institutional Responses to the Rana Plaza Disaster’ is an international, interdisciplinary research project that seeks to understand the challenges of improving labour conditions in global production networks. The project triangulates the perspectives of lead firms based in different home countries, suppliers and workers in the context of ongoing institutional innovations in the Bangladesh garment industry and on national and transnational levels.

Full link here: http://www.wiwiss.fu-berlin.de/forschung/Garments/Medien/GarmentGov_Interim-Report_November-2018_FINAL.pdf

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