Accord Bangladesh: a step closer to fair clothing

By signing the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, several large international garment companies are taking an important step towards improving labour conditions in one of the main garment producing countries. Fair Wear Foundation welcomes the Accord and hopes it will soon be followed by other, long-overdue measures.

‘It is unprecedented for an agreement of this type to be so widely supported by the garment industry,’ says Erica van Doorn, director of Fair Wear Foundation. ‘We hope this marks the beginning of a sustained effort: checking fire and building safety will not be enough, if international garment brands don’t change the way they do business.’

Van Doorn points out that unsafe buildings are not just a product of negligent factory managers and inadequate safety inspections. ‘Garment brands often place unreasonable pressure on factories for low prices and fast delivery. This undermines efforts to improve factory conditions.’ This is why Fair Wear Foundation annually conducts an independent review of its member companies’ business practices.

Building safety is one of many serious problems garment workers in Bangladesh face. Poverty-level wages, extreme working hours and sexual harassment are widespread. ‘Millions of garment workers face violations of their human rights on a daily basis,’ says Juliette Li, FWF’s country coordinator for Bangladesh. ‘We have been active in the country for almost ten years. Even though we don’t have all the answers, our comprehensive approach, including very thorough, independent factory audits, means our member companies are frontrunners in the garment industry.’

More than 90 companies representing 120 brands are members of Fair Wear Foundation. They have voluntarily committed to improving working conditions, including health and safety. FWF has audit teams in 11 production countries. FWF also has complaint hotlines in all of these countries, so factory workers can (anonymously) call a local number to report labour rights violations.

FWF member products are sold in over 20 000 stores in more than 80 countries around the world. FWF members represent a wide range of market segments, including low-cost retail, fashion, workwear and outdoor/sports brands. Improving labour conditions does not necessarily lead to expensive clothing – production costs are usually only a small fraction of retail prices.