The Bangladesh Accord: making an incontrovertible case for an ILO Convention on Global Supply Chains


The unarguable case for an ILO Convention on Global Supply Chains was made on the morning of 24 April 2013 on the outskirts of Dhaka, in Bangladesh. The moment when the seven-floor Rana Plaza garment factory complex collapsed claiming the lives of over 1100 workers and injuring many more.

The tragedy exposed the race to the bottom in the garment global supply chain in all its squalor and human desperation. Families scarred by loss and condemned by negligence. A supply chain based on lies, deception, corruption and a woefully inadequate local health and safety environment, with government and private employer complicity.

Rana Plaza was a line in the rubble where UNI Global Union and our sister global union IndustriALL, vowed to do everything in our power to prevent an occurrence of such a calamitous event.

It had deathly echoes of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York a century before and, as with that tragedy, was on a such a scale that it would be inhumane to ignore and not take action.

We knew we had to change the Bangladeshi garment supply chain forever and did so by creating the Bangladesh Accord on Building Fire and Safety which now has more than 220 brands signed up to a legally-binding agreement.

Putting right more than 30 years of neglect and a culture of self-serving ‘inspections’ does not happen overnight but with the Accord we are on our way and recognise the clock will not stop in 2018, when the five-year agreement is up.


The high road to decent work

UNI, like our partners including many of the brands, are committed to the long road to safety and sustainability.

The ILO is now itself standing at the crossroads on supply chains. There are amongst the employers and governments a minority who wish to take the low road of avoiding responsibility to millions of workers who toil in the supply chain, whereas we, the union movement, advocate a higher road to decent work.

The Bangladesh Accord is evidence that creating a sustainable and fair supply chain is an achievable goal. Those who seek to sling mud at the Bangladesh Accord are either ill-informed or anti-union, anti-worker followers of Walmart. Let’s be clear the Bangladesh Accord has made progress on the ground. Independent, transparent, and inclusive progress.

Lives have been saved and factory safety improved. The ILO role was critical and essential in the pursuit of compensation for the victims and their families. In contrast the Bangladesh Government has shown itself to be an enemy of freedom of association and is now using its poisonous policy to eliminate a union presence in the IT sector.

An ILO Convention on Global Supply Chains would be complimentary to, and enhance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In 2015, the world committed to work for sustainability, a green planet, for business to respect human rights. An ILO Convention will further fulfil those ambitions.

And do not for one moment think that such an ILO Convention is unobtainable, an impossible dream. To quote the much lamented boxing legend Muhammed Ali: “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it.”

Together we can make an ILO Convention on Global Supply Chains a reality. We know we can make it happen because we already showed we can by creating the Bangladesh Accord.