From Tragedy to Progress: Lessons from the Rana Plaza Building Collapse
On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed five garment factories, collapsed, killing at least 1,132 people and injuring over 2,500. Only five months before, at least 112 workers were killed in another tragic accident while trapped inside the burning Tazreen Fashions factory on Dhaka's outskirts. These disasters, which were among the worst industrial accidents on record, alerted the world to the poor working conditions endured by Bangladeshi garment workers. Millions of people, mostly girls and women, are exposed every day to an unsafe work environment with a high incidence of work-related accidents and deaths, as well as occupational diseases, for some of the world's lowest wages. The majority of the factories do not meet building and construction standards. As a result, deaths from fires and building collapses remain common.
Among many initiatives in response, the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety (the Accord) and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) were established to address Bangladesh's health and safety issues. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh began in 2013 as a 5-year agreement to promote workplace safety in the Bangladeshi Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry. Initially, forty brands and retailers, two global trade unions, IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union, and eight Bangladesh trade unions signed the agreement. Two hundred twenty companies had signed the Accord by July 2015. By May 2018, the collective efforts of Accord stakeholders had significantly contributed to safer workplaces for over 2 million Bangladeshi garment factory workers. Over 190 brands and retailers signed the 2018 Transition Accord with the world's trade unions to reaffirm their commitments to the 2013 Accord and to preserve and expand its achievements. The 2018 Accord lasted three years and included a commitment to transfer Accord program implementation to the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), a national tripartite organisation.
The signatories to the Accord renewed their partnership in 2021, establishing the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. This agreement confirms the signatories' continued commitment to support workplace safety programs in Bangladesh through collaboration with the RSC and commits to establishing workplace safety programs in other countries based on the results of feasibility studies. In the first year of this agreement, over 175 company signatories signed the International Accord, with an additional commitment to exploring the scope of the agreement to address human rights due diligence (HRDD) issues in the textile and garment industry. The signatories of the International Accord mandated the Secretariat to conduct a year-long feasibility assessment to explore new country programs based on several criteria. Pakistan was identified as a priority country, and the Secretariat held in-depth stakeholder consultations with key stakeholders. The Accord Steering Committee agreed to develop a framework for a program in Pakistan as a foundation for further consultations with stakeholders and pilot safety assessments to inform the possible establishment of an inspection and remediation program with the industry. In December 2022, the signatories agreed to establish a new workplace safety program in Pakistan for a three-year initial term beginning in 2023. The resulting agreement is the 'Pakistan Accord on Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry'.
24 April 2023 will mark the tenth anniversary of one of the deadliest industrial disasters in history, the collapse of the Rana Plaza building. Since the tragedy, significant progress has been made to improve the Bangladeshi garment industry's safety standards and working conditions. Despite these efforts, challenges remain. The implementation of safety measures has been slow, and many factories have yet to comply with safety standards. In some cases, factory owners have resisted implementing safety measures, citing the cost and the impact on their businesses. Additionally, many workers continue to face poor working conditions and low wages. Moreover, occupational safety and health challenges are still prevalent throughout other sectors, such as leather, fisheries and construction in South Asia.
Against this background, the session will begin with a 45-minute analysis of the success and lessons learned from the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. The panellists will discuss what lessons could be learned from the Accord and Alliance to make factories safer in other sourcing countries in South Asia, and including in the context of the newly established Pakistan Accord. In addition, the panellists will also discuss how the RMG sector lessons could be replicated or adapted for other industries, such as leather, fishing, and construction. The remaining 30 minutes will consist of an interactive question-and-answer session.
Provide a brief overview of the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety;
Provide a brief overview of the lessons that could be learned from the Accord and Alliance to make factories safer in other sourcing countries in South Asia;
Provide the lessons from the RMG sector that could be replicated or adapted for other industries, such as leather, fishing, and construction.
What lessons could be learned from the Accord and Alliance in the RMG industry?
How could lessons be replicated or adapted to make factories safer in other sourcing countries in South Asia?
How could the RMG sector lessons be replicated or adapted for other industries like leather, fishing, and construction?
Q&A and discussion between panellists and participants
 See https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/geip/WCMS_614394/lang--en/index.htm
 See https://internationalaccord.org/countries/bangladesh/
 See https://internationalaccord.org/countries/pakistan/
 See also, https://www.undp.org/publications/reflections-and-directions-business-and-human-rights-asia-from-first-to-next-decade, page 69