International Accord Renewed for Record-Breaking 6 Years

Fashion’s brands, retailers and trade unions have agreed to extend the International Accord on Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry for another three-year term, with an automatic renewal of an additional three years. It’s their longest commitment to date, the legally binding agreement’s Amsterdam-based secretariat revealed Monday.

The International Accord, which succeeded the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh on Sept. 1, 2021, wrapped up its inaugural 26-month run earlier this month. Even the original Bangladesh Accord, which coalesced in the wake of the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, a watershed catastrophe that killed 1,134 garment workers and injured thousands more just outside the capital of Dhaka, had an initial run of five years.

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With this year marking the 10th anniversary of the disaster, the commitment holds particular significance. The new iteration of the International Accord is effective as of Nov. 1, leaving no gap in the coverage of 1,600 factories in Bangladesh. A Pakistani offshoot of the pact, its first expansion outside of Bangladesh, runs on a slightly different timeline, beginning at the start of 2023 for an interim period of three years. More than 420 facilities have been identified for inspections and remediation work so far, including textile mills, which weren’t under the purview of the Bangladesh Accord before.

“This enduring commitment reflects the conviction of the brand and trade union signatories in the Accord’s impact on workplace health and safety through independent factory inspections, remediation, safety training and an effective worker complaints mechanism,” the secretariat said in a statement noting the framework’s provision to “develop future health and safety programs in other major garment-producing countries based on feasibility and expansion criteria.”

Other new features in this iteration of the International Accord include a potential future expansion of the scope of the worker complaints mechanism beyond health and safety in the various country-specific safety programs, the outlining of key signatory obligations and principles upon which country programs will be built, and the requirement that participating brands sign both the International Accord and the relevant country-specific safety framework programs instead of choosing one or the other. Gap Inc., for instance, is currently a signatory of the Pakistan Accord but not of the broader International Accord.

Negotiations for the new Bangladesh country-specific safety program agreement, which “reaffirms the signatories’ continued commitment to the program in Bangladesh” and is implemented by the Readymade Garments Sustainability Council, a.k.a. the RSC, will continue and are expected to be finalized this week, the secretariat added. The Pakistan Accord, it noted, will continue as an addendum to the International Accord.

“The new International Accord will continue to build on the strong principles and approach that made the Accord effective,” it said. “This includes factory inspections and remediation, safety training, worker awareness programs, a credible independent worker complaints mechanism, respect for freedom of association, independent administration and implementation, a high level of transparency, and provisions ensuring financially feasible remediation.”

The International Accord had roughly 200 signatories, including high rollers like H&M Group and Zara owner Inditex, which were among the first brands to sign up to the Bangladesh Accord at its creation. But companies have to re-sign the renewed International Accord and the Bangladesh agreement, which they will be able to do from Nov. 16 onward. The secretariat said that it will announce the initial signatories to both in the first week of December. Brands sourcing from Pakistan that have not yet joined the Pakistan Accord’s 80 signatories are also encouraged to sign “as soon as possible,” it said.

Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, one of the trade unions behind all versions of the Accord, called the agreement “proof positive” that its model of supply chain regulation, meaning a legally binding agreement between brands and global unions, has “staying power.”

“Many considered that it was a flash in the pan exercise in response to the crisis of Rana Plaza,” Hoffman said in a statement. “But today the parties have agreed to a six-year deal, which expands both the geographic coverage of the program and the issues within its scope. With the recent rollout of requirements for due diligence in the supply chain, employers everywhere should note that the Accord is a model with a proven track record.”

“This long-term commitment to the International Accord is the best way to honor the victims of Rana Plaza and continue the legacy we have built in improving safety in Bangladesh, and now beginning in Pakistan,” she told Sourcing Journal. “We have high ambitions—we want garment workers everywhere to be safe on the job—which is why we have secured a firm commitment to expansion in other countries. Our goal is to have the next country program underway in 2025.”

Atle Høie, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, another of the Accord’s spearheaders, agreed. The union federation recently embarked on a whistle-stop tour of New York City and Washington, D.C. to persuade American brands and lawmakers of the benefits of legally binding instruments over voluntary schemes. Whether U.S. brands beyond American Eagle Outfitters, Fanatics and Calvin Klein owner PVH Corp. will embrace the International Accord this go-around remains to be seen, however. Many notable names, including Gap, The North Face owner VF Corp., Levi Strauss & Co. and Walmart, continue to back Nirapon, the safety group that replaced the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the Accord’s less legally robust alternative, after its expiration in 2018.

“Since its inception 10 years ago, the Accord has been instrumental in making the garment industry safer,” Høie said in a statement. “We now have a long-term, sustainable solution for the Accord with substantial scope for development when it comes to new countries and inclusion of the fundamental principles and rights at work as core building blocks in the complaint’s mechanism and in the training program.”