Grave concern was aired by Bangladesh government and Readymade Garment (RMG) factory owners over a ‘unilateral’ decision made by the European Union (EU) brands and retailers to extend the presence of Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh by three years more. The anxiety was, according to reports, expessed at an emergency meeting of two ministers with foreign diplomats in Bangladesh in the presence of leaders of the local apparel makers at the Bangladesh Secretariat in the city. The Accord in a statement issued recently said the companies and global unions have agreed on a 2nd Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. It is expected to expand its nature and area of inspection and other activities, especially promotion of freedom of association. The agreement will enter into effect when the current Accord expires in May 2018. The Accord is an unprecedented, legally binding agreement between companies and trade unions to make factories in Bangladesh safe. On June 30, some 16 brands and retailers like H&M, C&A, Loblaw, Primark, Inditex, PVH, Kmart Australia and Target Australia signed the new agreement ‘The 2018 Bangladesh Accord’ by UNI Global Union and IndustriAll Global Union and it was announced in the Global Forum on Responsible Business Conduct of OECD held on June 29 in Paris. The new agreement, Accord says, will put greater emphasis on the right of workers to organise and join unions, recognising workers’ empowerment as fundamental to assuring workplace safety. It includes enhanced protection for workers whose factories are closed or relocated due t the implementation of the agreement. It will also expand its activities to new areas other than the readymade garment industry. The emergency meeting between the ministers, foreign diplomats and the readymade garment factory owners vented displeasure at the unilateral decision of the Accord to stay more time in Bangladesh. Commerce minister Tofail Ahmed and law minister Anisul Huq, speaking at the meeting, made the government’s position clear on the matter. The ministers said that it was not expected that retailers would impose any unilateral decision on a sovereign country, the Accord should have rather placed a proposal for extending its agreement in Bangladesh. They urged the foreign ambassadors to convey the message of the government to the governments of their respective countries. The country’s apparel makers claimed that without consultation with stakeholders, the Accord cannot extend its timeframe. They strongly opposed the unilateral decision of the global brands and trade unions regarding extension of the Accord by three more years. They are planning to highlight the difficulties the sector has been facing in a letter to the EU while implementing the safety requirements as prescribed by the Accord. On its part, the Accord claimed that its second phase would expand its inspection network as it plans to inspect the backward linkage industries. If they do not intend to stay in the country for a long time, how they would complete inspection of the additional 1,000 to 1,500 backward linkage factories within the proposed time, and interfere in trade union activities in the factories, it said. The Accord is planning to introduce freedom of association. But an apparel leader says the freedom of association has been ensured by the constitution of the country which has also ratified the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on this issue. The Accord plan is not going to work as the implementing stakeholders — Bangladesh government and the apparel makers — are not included in the process. Meantime, the European Commission (EC) also asked for amendments to the EPZ law to bring it in line with the ILO standards and allow full freedom of association by this time. Responding the EU’s deadline for investigating unfair labour practices (ULP) in a transparent and accountable manner by August next, the government said the Department of Labour (DoL) is authorised to receive complaints about such acts and it is already in process. From 2013 to 2016, some 93 complaints relating to unfair practices were lodged with DoL. Of these, 80 complaints were settled while 35 criminal cases were filed whereas 45 complaints were settled amicably and 13 were under investigation. The disposal rate was relatively high in 2016, where all of the 71 cases were settled with a disposal rate of 100 per cent. The apparel leaders have urged the government for taking urgent steps to strengthen the remediation coordination cell so that it can take over the charge of all safety activities. Discussion with all stakeholders is necessary to see whether the Accord’s tenure is needed to be extended or not. If the remediation work is done within the set timeframe by the government, analysts say, local efforts are enough to do the job.