In a groundbreaking moment for sustainability and workers’ rights, UNI Global Union, in conjunction with IndustriALL Global Union, has been honoured in the 2023 Vogue Business 100 Innovators List for its visionary leadership in sustainability. This announcement heralds a significant milestone in fashion industry accountability and comes as calls for systemic change and sustainability reach a crescendo worldwide.
The inclusion of UNI Global Union and IndustriALL in the list spotlights the essential role both federations play regarding the International Accord on Fire and Building Safety, originally known as the Bangladesh Accord.
This recognition underscores the effectiveness of the International Safety Accord in bringing about real change in the fashion industry. Since its implementation in the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which claimed 1,138 lives and left another 2,500 injured or disabled, the accord has conducted close to 56,000 safety inspections across 2,400 garment factories in Bangladesh. It has remedied over 140,000 safety issues, boasting an impressive 91% remediation rate.
“It’s not just a momentous honor for us but a testament to the collective will and effort of unions and workers in cooperation with the brands. Our initiative has shown that the industry can and must operate within the rules and regulations which guarantee worker safety,” said Alke Boessiger, UNI Global Union’s Deputy General Secretary.
As of January 2023, the International Safety Accord is slated for expansion into other geographies, beginning with Pakistan. The positive impact of the Accord on workers in factories covered by the Accord is undeniable, and its planned roll-out in other regions promises a sweeping revolution in how fashion businesses operate sustainably and ethically.
Amidst a complex matrix of challenges, from wage disparities to colonial power dynamics in fashion’s supply chain, UNI Global Union and IndustriALL have demonstrated that transformation is possible. This accolade from Vogue Business adds significant momentum to the ongoing drive for systemic sustainability, and places UNI Global Union and its leaders at the forefront of global change.
Lauded as “the most effective campaign of the globalized era,” the Bangladesh Accord revolutionized safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry. It established an independent body to inspect factories and set timelines for correcting occupational hazards. Factories that did not follow the inspection and remediation requirements were ineligible to produce for Accord signatories, which include some of the largest fashion labels in the world. These brands are responsible for ensuring that factories have adequate resources for repairs. When two retailers refused to pay their fair share for remediations, the global unions launched arbitration proceedings and secured substantial settlements to be put towards the cost of repairs.
As a result of the Bangladesh Accord, workers and unions now have the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to report a safety issue without fear of reprisal, and the right to join a union. Over 1.8 million workers have been trained in workplace safety, directly leading to thousands of worker-led hazards being identified and fixed.
The International Accord: A new chapter for worker safety in the industry
In September 2021, the global unions completed negotiations for the International Accord, which replaces and expands the 2018 commitments. While the mechanisms and requirements of the Accord in Bangladesh remain the same, the inspection functions have been transferred to the tri-partite Ready Made Garments Sustainability Council, (RSC), which also includes representatives of the industry.
Additionally, the agreement commits brands and retailers to expand the factory safety programme into other garment-producing countries. With almost 200 signatories, the International Accord has proven that the model of the Accord is durable and credible.