The Bangladesh Garment Factory Workers Tragedy — and Investor and Corporate Response Five Years On

By Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

We are five years on from the Rana Plaza “Savar” five-story factory building collapse and fire that killed more than 1,000 garment workers in Dhaka (Dacca), the crowded capital city of Bangladesh. (The accident was on April 24, 2013). In the ashes and debris there were the labels of prominent developed nations’ apparel marketers. Reputations were at stake — “Reforms” discussions were immediately underway in Europe and North America.

The Europeans moved on with the “Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety” while in North America brand marketers were moving on “The Alliance on Bangladesh Safety.”

Where are we today?

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) is keeping the accident and aftermath in the focus of the investment community and stakeholders. Yesterday ICCR (a coalition of 300-plus institutional members managing $400 billion AUM) and the group of allied investors issued a statement that helps to explain where we are.

About The Accord

Right after the building collapse, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was created as a model for collective action by brand marketers and retailers that source in Bangladesh.

The Accord is now being extended (as the five-year deadline is reached in May) for another three years to complete the remediation of the 1,600 factories and companies that have not signed on (yet) are being invited by the investor coalition to become signatories and to implement the reforms spelled out in the Accord.

The Accord, the investors point out, is still serving as a model that can be adopted and applied to other at-risk countries and sectors.     

The Bangladesh Investor Initiative – led by ICCR – was a catalyst that brought together 250 institutional investors with US$4.5 trillion in AUM in May 2013 to urge a stronger corporate response to the Rana Plaza tragedy, including urging companies to sign on to the Accord.

The coalition invited companies to commit to strengthening local worker trade unions to ensure a “living wage” for all workers, and to engage with the Bangladesh government.

About the Accord:

  • Corporate signatories agree that global and local trade unions and NGOs could be invited to inspect the country’s apparel factories and implement reforms to protect workers.
  • Companies were asked for transparencies in publicly disclosing their suppliers – including those located in the nation of Bangladesh.
  • Worker grievance mechanisms and effective remedies (including compensation) should be put in place for all workers and their families.
  • The investor coalition argued that supply chain transparency is critical to safeguarding workers and employer responsibility – including information on sub-contractors.
  • Note that the Accord is legally-binding for signatories.

Making the Case

Lauren Compere, Managing Director of Boston Common Asset Management makes the case for companies: “Stakeholders, including investors, rely on transparency as a tool for evaluating corporate performance on a range of social, environmental and corporate governance issues. The Accord has been very transparent in requiring disclosure of each of the 1,600 companies it covers, which helps investors track progress. This is a ‘best practice’ that all companies need to implement, beginning with Tier One suppliers, then throughout their supply chain.”

Progress Report – 5 Years On

To date, 220 brands and retailers have signed on to the original Accord. Remediation plans have made 2.5 million workers in “Accord factories” have been made “meaningfully safer”. A steering committee made up of an equal number of brand and union representatives and a neutral chair from the International Labor Organization govern the Accord.

The Accord provided for in-depth health and safety training to personnel in 846 factories, reaching 1.9 million workers. A grievance process is in place; to date, there have been 183 worker complaints investigated and resolved.

Detailed information is required for each factory.

The Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund has been established to compensate workers injured in the collapse and families of workers who were killed (note that Bangladesh has no national employment injury system). $30 million has been raised to date; companies sourcing garment/apparel work in the country were asked to contribute; 30 companies did so, along with several union funds and foundations. The ILO is the trustee and oversees distributions.

The investor coalition is pleased with the progress made to date – but stresses that there is much work still be done (therefore the 3-year extension is necessary). “The job of mediating all of the issue is far from done and we will continue to urge those companies that have not signed on to the 2018 Accord and its three-year extension to do so.”

The New Elements to the Accord

The 2018 Transition Accord has gathered140 signatory companies to date, with 1,332 factories covered. The new elements include:

  • Safety Committee & Safety Training at all covered factories;
  • Training and Complaints Protocol on Freedom of Association;
  • Severance payments for affected workers in factory closures and relocations.
  • Voluntary expansion of the scope to include home textiles; fabric and knit accessories;
  • Transition of Accord functions to a national regulatory body.

We’ll bring you updates as the Transition to the new Accord continues.

About the Nation of Bangladesh

Located in Southeast Asia, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is the world’s 8th most populous country, according to Wikipedia (163 million estimated). It was once part of “British India” until East Bengal became part of the Dominion of Pakistan, was re-named East Pakistan and then became independent in the early -1970s. It is characterized as a “developing country,” one of the poorest, and trades with the USA, EU, China, Japan, India, and other nations. Per capita income was estimated at US$1,190 in 2014.

The largest industries are textiles and ready-made garments; leather-goods (footwear is the second largest in exports. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothes in the world.

# # #

Notes / Information:

There’s more information for you on the ICCR web site: www.iccr.org

Information about the Accord: http://bangladeshaccord.org/

The Accord Update for April is at: http://bangladeshaccord.org/wp-content/uploads/ACCORD_FACTSHEET_Apr2018.pdf

There’s information for you in G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” management briefing platform:

https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/a-big-year-2018-for-developments-in-corporate-sustainability-sustainable-investing-the-two-halves-of-the-great-whole-of-the-new-norms-of-capitalism/

CNBC in commenting on the five year anniversary (on April 24) noted the factories still pose a life-threatening risk, with 3,000 of 7,000 factories endangering the lives of low-paid garment workers (according to a New York University Centre for Business and Human Rights Study).

The story is at: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/24/bangladesh-factories-still-pose-life-threatening-risks-five-years-on-from-rana-plaza-disaster.html

The NYU report authored by Paul M. Barrett, Dorothee Baumann-Pauly and April Gu is at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/547df270e4b0ba184dfc490e/t/5ac9514eaa4a998f3f30ae13/1523143088805/NYU+Bangladesh+Rana+Plaza+Report.pdf

Human Rights Watch also weighed in with “Remember Rana Plaza: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/24/remember-rana-plaza

“Wolf” Now at the Head of EPA – No Disguises Needed to Fool the Sheep (er, We-the-People)

Is the Wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing? Nah — not to worry about any disguising — the wolf’s intentions were well signaled to us — the Denier/Destroyer-in-Chief at U.S. EPA is doing exactly what we expected him to do….

Remember from childhood days when our parent or caregiver told us the story of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing…” We were being cautioned, in one of the many of our early “life’s lessons,” to be careful about the advice we received, to look beyond the words, to watch people’s actions as well as hearing their words.

Because — often the legendary “wolf” would don sheep’s clothing (hey, that’s a great disguise) to mingle with the innocent flock of sheep (that the ravenous wolf really wanted to feed on). Watch out, sheep — and people!

This tale comes down to us in various forms came from different sources, including the Holy Bible, New Testament, with Jesus warning about false prophets. We’re reminded of this brief moral tale (a perennial fable of sorts that developed over the centuries) as we watched the nominees of the Trump Administration.

What do they have to say to pass muster at the U.S. Senate nominations hearing — and what are their real intentions — what will they in fact do while in office to harm our society?

Well, we don’t have to watch the top wolf there at 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. — just down the road from the White House. The new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt let us know with both his past performance and his clearly-stated words his intentions now that he is at the helm of the US EPA ship: he is not a believer that climate change has any relationship to human activities. Like carbon emissions – GhGs to be more accurate.

Administrator Pruitt told his CNBC interviewer on a popular cable program that many investors tune in to: “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so … I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.  (Emphasis ours.)

Pruitt:  “We need to continue the debate…and the review…and the analysis.” CO2 emissions are not the primary cause, the Administrator mused.

Past Actions – Prelude to Future Actions?

Keep in mind here that this is the former Oklahoma Attorney General who sued the EPA some 13 times.

As Huffington Post’s Dominique Mosbergen put it in January 2017: “It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile EPA Administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.”

Oh, and on his Linked In page, pre-EPA AG Pruitt noted he was “…the leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda…”

Commented writer Mosbergen about EPA’s role in our society (and that agenda):

“The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment by issuing regulations and enforcing the nation’s environmental laws. Under President Barack Obama, the EPA created the Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon pollution from power plants. It also issued new guidance for the Clean Water Act to protect thousands of waterways and wetlands, and introduced measures to limit emissions from heavy-duty trucks and reduce smog and mercury emissions from industrial sources.”

Yes, We Can Expect Changes — Dramatic at That

Now that Administrator Scott Pruit is firmly installed by fellow Senate Republicans at the EPA — we can expect these positive, fact-based actions to rapidly change. For example, here is what his own EPA (the Agency’s official web site) says about this (today):

“Recent climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural causes alone. Research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming…”

And as posted before Election Day in October 2016: “…greenhouse gas emissions have increased the greenhouse effect and caused Earth’s surface temperature to rise. The primary human activity affecting the amount and rate of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.”

Question: Will these posts be up there next Monday morning?

These EPA positions are based in part on the National Research Council work — “Advancing the Science of Climate Warming,” published by National Academies Press.

We should keep watch on all of the EPA information channels to see the interference of the new leadership in the good work of the Agency.  Watch for fake news, of course, and counter that with FACTS.  Science is cool as reference point.

Watch for missing news — up there today – gone in the morning — too much information for the sheep.

Other Governments on the Move

Beyond the EPA Washington DC offices, of course other governments believe in environmental protection — and climate change measures!  (Think”  Paris Accord, COP 21 – now in danger in the Administrator’s hand.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in February 2017 the above after the COP 21 Paris gathering of the world’s government leaders: “The selection of the authors for the IPCC’s 1.5oC report is the first step in the critical journey started at COP 21. This special report will facilitate this important journey by assessing the available science and highlighting the policy options available to support the achievement of a climate safe, equitable and sustainable world,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of Working Group II.”

Assessments of climate change by the IPCC, drawing on the work of hundreds of scientists from all over the world, enable policymakers at all levels of government in many nationsto take sound, evidence-based decisions.

They represent extraordinary value as the authors volunteer their time and expertise. The running costs of the Secretariat, including the organization of meetings and travel costs of delegates from developing countries and countries with economies in transition, are covered through the IPCC Trust Fund…”

Can we now expect that the U.S.A. — with EPA in the lead — will be absent from study and deliberations? Withdraw financial and other support from the IPCC organization?  Deny the outcomes of any research?  (Hmmm….we have to have more studies…”)

That’s what classic deniers/destroyers do in public policy circles — create & sow doubt, deny agencies their funding, change staff to hire more kool-aid drinkers, destroy enforcement capabilities  — and remove “climate change” or “global warming”references  from official web sites.

As the Republican Governor of Florida recently did — the state agencies can’t use such references (climate change?  what’s that?).

Never mind that parts of his state will be underwater with seas rising — including Mar-a-Lago, the “other” White House sitting quite near the beautiful ocean’s edge!.  Much of the Florida expensive waterfronts will move considerably far inland toward Disney World and the I-4 corridor as the oceans warm, ice shelfs recede and glaciers in Antarctica melt…and…and…

OK — we were and are warned — the dangerous wolf is in the head office and not in disguise at the EPA and the sheep (we, The People) will surely be the victims of his wrongheaded and dangerous strategies and tactics as long as he is in control.

We hear you, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:  “When it comes to climate change, the evidence is robust and overwhelmingly clear that the cost of inaction is unacceptably high.”   We miss you, for sure!