Highlights from the Nordic outreach meeting

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and the ethical trading initiatives in Denmark and Norway hosted on 24th June 2013 an information meeting for the Nordic garment and textile sector and other key stakeholders about the new international Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

The meeting was organised as part of the implementation of the Danish Partnership for Responsible Garments and Textiles Production in Bangladesh and the Nordic initiative Nordic Ethical Trading Framework.

The purpose was to learn more about the International Accord and provide Nordic companies with sufficient information on the basis of which they could decide on their participation in the Accord. Philip Jennings, General Secretary, UNI Global Union and Andy Brown, Ethical Trade Manager, N Brown Group presented the Accord and the status of the work of the implementation team. The presentations were followed by a panel discussion where also Bodil Brannström, Helly Hansen and Peter McAllister, ETI participated.

After the meeting a Danish press meeting was held where six Danish retailers announced that they would sign up to the Accord.

Philip Jennings made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that his task of the day was to convince the companies that “today is making up your mind time”. The purpose of the International Accord should not be perceived as being part of a branding or marketing strategy but simply actions to be implemented because it is crucial to help the Bangladeshi people. NGOs, companies and trade unions agree that the Accord should not be a repetition of solutions that did not work in the past, but a chance to implement new initiatives and new solutions as a good practice example to be followed in other countries.

The International Accord and its purpose has great momentum as it has public policy support and is a priority to the UN Global Compact board and furthermore has support from the OECD. With the 59 brands already signed up on June 24th roughly half of the workforce in Bangladesh is covered by the Accord, and Philip Jenkins emphasised the need for the Nordic textile industry to step up. He continued by stressing that it is not a question whether companies have a responsibility or not. The biggest responsibility lies with the Bangladeshi Government but the industry needs to take matters into their own hands and support better working conditions for the millions of workers in the Bangladeshi textile industry. The problems in Bangladesh will not be solved in the five years the Accord runs, which emphasises even more the need to get started right now to work jointly on improvements.

Andy York said that also for N. Brown Group the most important thing to do was to sign up to the Accord initially due to the size of the disaster. They didn’t know the details and they signed up without conferring with legal teams or considering budgets, because it was the only right thing to do.

Now the real work can begin and currently the implementation team is in the process of collecting data to have an overview of how many suppliers will be affected by the Accord in Bangladesh. Furthermore, inspectors will be trained to audit building constructions. The costs for the brands are based on units produced in Bangladesh. The more participating brands the cheaper the cost. Additional funding is also considered for instance from the World Bank and the IFC. Andy recommends the Nordic brands to join the Accord also SMEs which specific challenges will be adequately addressed by the Accord.

According to Peter McAllister the combination of several issues led to the collapse of Rana Plaza. Poor regulations, poor enforcement, as well as bad industry practices just to mention a few. Furthermore, the lack of union engagement and unprofessional management has led to an unorganised and weak workforce primarily women workers, who are widely discriminated against by male managers. The International Accord clearly addresses several of these governance issues as well of industry factors and can drive a different health and safety culture in the industry. It is essential to acknowledge that the issues in Bangladesh cannot be fixed in 18 months and with a little training. Some of these problems arise from deeply embedded cultural issues such as gender issues and in that sense the Accord needs to address issues like empowerment of women. After the five years the Accord plans to run, it is not enough to measure impact by number of inspections and training sessions, the engagement and involvement of local resources during the implementation of the Accord is crucial in order to succeed.

Helly Hansen is one the smallest signatories of the Accord. Even though Helly Hansen throughout the years have done a lot to make sure that their ethical standards have been met by their suppliers, they are aware that there is still a lot of work left to be done. Bodil Brannström mentioned that one of the key reasons for Helly Hansen to join the Accord was the fact that they might share factories with other signatories and thus can join forces with others.

Questions were raised about the involvement and support from the local Bangladeshi suppliers in the development of the Accord and now the implementation plan. Andy York made it clear that until now the involvement has been limited, but the Accord and the implementation plan were not made in isolation of the situation on the ground. H&M for example has around 400 people on the ground in Bangladesh, and their knowledge and experiences have feed into the elaboration of the implementation plan. Furthermore the plan is to involve local resources in the Advisory Board and to establish a program office in Bangladesh.

Many companies already conduct building and safety audits. The implementation team is aware of this issue and wants to make sure that the work they make complements the work which has already been done. But there is no doubt that the standard has to improve in Bangladesh.

There was also a question regarding the possibility for companies sourcing home textiles to sign up to the Accord. It became clear that the Accord at this moment only covers ready-made garments. Therefore, companies like JYSK must await clarification regarding whether home textiles will be covered. This will be discussed at the next meeting in the Implementation team.

Regarding the cost of participating in the Accord the implementation team is working on a final budget. The cost will be based on units produced in Bangladesh, but the final costing plan is not ready yet.

Several SMEs were present at the meeting and they were interested to know how they could support the Accord. The message was clear – You are not too small to matter. Just sign up, and you can benefit from the work of the bigger companies. This is the best club to be a part of. It was suggested to establish a mechanism that supports the participation of smaller companies in the Accord. This will be discussed further with the parties behind the Accord.

The meeting was followed by a Danish press meeting where six Danish retailers announced that they have decided to sign the Accord. The six companies are Bestseller, IC Companys, DK Company, PWT Group, COOP Denmark and Dansk Supermarked.

Press Release

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