“Europeans are trying to trick North American retailers into doing more of collective oversight by diluting accountability,” said Hajagos-Clausen. “At one level, of course, we want more brands to register – after all, the same factories produce for American, European and other international brands. But all that is happening here is a reduction in the credibility of the overall program, making it impossible to use the agreement as a possible blueprint for global coverage of a dangerous time for textile workers everywhere. “
Faruque Hassan, the president of the Association of Apparel Manufacturers, did not respond to requests for comment. And while some Western brands like Asos have publicly stated that they would support a legally binding deal, most were unwilling to speak out during the ongoing negotiations. H&M, the Swedish retailer that was instrumental in creating the original deal, is also leading the current talks and remains “engaged” according to Payal Jain, H & M’s director of global sustainable production.
Ms. Jain said H&M strongly supports a structure involving trade unions, employers’ organizations and the government, as well as clear accountability for brands and increasing fire and building security capabilities in the country.
“We are confident that we can come up with good solutions,” she added.
The Bangladeshi factory workers, already dealing with wage cuts and late wages, will be counting on it. Apparel exports, which make up 80 percent of Bangladesh’s annual export revenue, fell 17 percent in 2020. The country’s apparel sector was devastated when brands closed stores during the pandemic and canceled orders worth up to $ 3.5 billion, ruining many factory owners. The industry has recovered, but the future remains uncertain – especially with ongoing lockdowns and virus outbreaks.
Small and medium-sized factory owners have long said they have come under pressure from the investments required to meet safety standards. Now their finances continue to suffer as many global brands continue to cut contract prices in a difficult trading environment. Brands have also asked factories to implement costly new security measures related to Covid 19.
According to Posner, although clear improvements have been made to occupational safety in Bangladesh, the work is far from over. While the deal and alliance reached around 2,500 factories, the industry is known to have more than twice as many facilities, including subcontractors. A significant proportion of the factories in Bangladesh remain unsafe.
“As the world opens up again and demand continues to rise, no one in this equation can afford to take their eyes off the ball,” said Posner. “The legacy of the agreement is at stake.”