Activists and academics alike hailed the conclusion of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety which offered hope that lessons had been learned from the carnage of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. Lauded as a “landmark,” a “gamechanger,” a “breakthrough,” this transnational industrial relations agreement (TIRA) between 222 global brands and retailers and IndustriALL and UNI Global Unions appeared to offer a new way forward in the governance of global supply chains at a time when the serious limitations of auditing-based corporate social responsibility (CSR) approaches were increasingly recognised. More than six years on, how far has this transformative potential been realised?
In its own terms, the Bangladesh Accord has been a huge success. When its five-year term came to an end, the accord reported that 85 per cent of safety hazards it had initially identified in factories had been fixed, with 150 factories fully completing the safety remediation, and 857 factories having implemented over 90 per cent of the remediation. Independent research confirms that the safety of accord factories has been transformed. A survey of 1500 Bangladesh garment workers by Naila Kabeer and colleagues found that 96 per cent of workers in accord factories felt safe in their factory, 90 per cent reported that they could refuse to go into the factory if the building was perceived to be unsafe, while over 90 per cent had received health and safety training. Since 2015, no worker has died in an accord-listed factory as a result of a safety issue covered by the accord. Beyond the accord remit of safety, many problems such as abuse and low wages persist in Bangladesh garment factories, but nonetheless the accord has had unprecedented success in achieving its aims, in an industry where sustained improvement in standards is rare.