After Factory Disaster, Bangladesh Made Big Safety Strides. Are the Bad Days Coming Back?

A transition is already underway. All inspections, training and complaints previously overseen by the Accord will be absorbed into the new council by May 31. By midyear, the Accord, which was granted an extension beyond its original 2018 end date, will cease to exist.

The strictures of the new monitoring group would not be legally binding for brands and factory owners. Instead, “compliance should be a voluntary step” said Rubana Huq, the president of the garment manufacturers’ association.

Many Bangladeshi owners of small and medium-size factories, Ms. Huq said, are increasingly squeezed between demands to invest in expensive training and safety measures; growing competition from low-cost foreign markets like Ethiopia; and global brands that push prices downward.

Because of these pressures, the new monitoring group would not focus on levying punitive measures against noncompliant factories, whose finances are suffering.

“It is time for Bangladesh to claim its own space, clearly defined by rules that benefit and satisfy all stakeholders,” Ms. Huq said, urging a more collaborative model focused on a greater sharing of responsibility between buyers and suppliers, both on remediation costs and employees’ well-being.

One of Bangladesh’s foremost female business leaders and the managing director of the Mohammadi Group, which owns factories that produce shirts, sweaters and underwear, Ms. Huq belongs to Dhaka’s social and political elite, as do many fellow factory owners. These ties have critics worried about conflicts of interest that could hinder enforcement of the replacement deal.

“The Accord is and was successful because of its binding nature, enforceability, transparency, powerful complaint mechanism, its equal distribution of power between labor and brands, and the inspectorate’s independence,” said Christie Miedema, a spokeswoman for the Clean Clothes Campaign, which advocates for better working conditions in the industry.

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