Five years after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, in which more than 1,100 people died, we must take stock of progress to strengthen international supply-chain safety and health and the work that is still urgently needed.
After the appalling disaster in 2013, IOSH was pleased to host joint-stakeholder events to promote the new five-year Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (bit.ly/1DbFEWg). The accord is an innovative and legally binding initiative that brings together big brand names and trade unions to help to tackle the serious safety and health problems that Rana Plaza typified.
Public accessibility of corrective action plans and inspection reports is a positive feature of the accord. So too are its inspection programme, remediation work, training, health and safety committees, complaints mechanisms and the right to refuse unsafe work. This is particularly important when we remember reports that Rana Plaza workers felt pressured into continuing to work despite dangerous cracks in the building.
Five years on, a report summarises its achievements, citing 83% of safety issues verified as fixed or pending verification. The total for electrical defects is 92.7%; fire 82.2%; and structural 70.6%. The report says 699 out of 1,631 factories have reached more than 90% remediation, but “major life-threatening safety concerns remain outstanding in too many factories”.
The Bangladesh government has now agreed the accord will continue until substantial additional enforcement capacity is developed and a national regulatory body can take over. There is a joint monitoring committee made up of accord brands and union signatories, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the International Labour Organization, and the Bangladesh government. This will conduct biannual reviews and agree when conditions for “handover” are met, followed by a six-month transition.
The transition accord already has 140 brands signed up, from Europe, the US, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Turkey. It strengthens the previous accord by voluntary expansion to industries such as home textiles, fabric and knitted accessories.
Upskilling at grassroots level is vital and even small-scale projects can help. IOSH was pleased to co-fund the OHS Initiative for Workers and Community in Bangladesh. This project reported the awarding of certificates to delegates last year as part of its Train the Trainer programme. The 20-day training course used interactive audiovisual materials and participation, as well as visits to garment factories to gain experience. It will now be circulated across the sector, potentially helping to save and transform lives.
More widely, the past five years have brought several supply chain-related developments. The ISO 20400 guidance helps organisations to ensure their procurement is socially responsible, consistent with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, which include healthy lives and wellbeing for all ages and decent work for all. The new ISO 45001 standard also requires an organisation to have processes to control the procurement so that they conform to its OSH management system.
To extend risk management as far into the supply chain as organisations have control and influence, we need responsible procurement, setting realistic timescales and costings and working with suppliers to raise standards.