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The owners of Bangladesh’s garment factories are threatening the Accord on Fire and Building Safety with legal action after claiming that closures for safety checks and repair work are costing them money. With some overhauls expected to take months, factory owners say they cannot shoulder the expense of both workers’ salaries and major repairs while their facilities are suspended from production. Forged in the wake of April 2013’s Rana Plaza disaster, and backed by over 170 international brands, retailers, and trade unions, the accord has committed inspecting the South Asian country’s 3,500-plus garment factories for fire, electrical, and structural safety at a rate of roughly 250 per month. Although inspection reports have yet to uncover problems as severe as those behind the Rana Plaza building’s collapse, almost every inspected factory so far has presented issues, including inadequate fire-suppression equipment, locked or absent fire exits, poor electrical wiring, and weak foundations.
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The Guardian reports that the owner of Softex Cotton, based in Dhaka, has demanded $100 million in compensation after his factory was shut down due to structural problems.
“There is no such thing as temporary closure,” one factory owner told the Guardian.
Another owner said that once a factory closed its doors, even briefly, it would lose orders and shutter permanently. “There is no such thing as temporary closure,” he told the Guardian, adding that the accord has “pussy-footed” around the issue of who pays for factory closures as a way to get as many brands as possible to sign up.
But Jenny Holdcroft, policy director for IndustriAll Global Union, a labor group that helped set up the accord, said that the agreement safeguarded factories from losing orders during closures because its brand signatories made a commitment to maintain orders with their suppliers for two years. Although 12 factories have been identified by the accord as requiring significant work, Holdcroft said that many of those only needed partial closure to lighten the stress on the building while production continued on other floors.
The accord also legally binds brands to ensure that workers are paid during factory suspensions, Holdcroft added, although details on who makes these payments have been left open to ensure that factory owners who could afford to would make the necessary contributions.
“This was always going to be a topic of negotiation,” she told the newspaper. “Brands don’t want to commit to paying so that rich factory owners who have just pocketed the profits and not been spending on their factories for years continue to do so. There was obviously going to be disruption, if there was no disruption there would be not change.”
The issue has been compounded, however, by the $5 million set aside by the rival Alliance for Bangladesh Safety, formed by a group of mostly North American apparel retailers, including Gap and Walmart, to help reimburse workers for up to two months of unemployment while repairs are carried out on certain buildings.
“The Alliance [for Bangladesh Safety] is sharing the workers salary along with entrepreneurs so now there is a big confusion,” said Shaidullah Azim, a director of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.”We had a big meeting with the accord to make them understand they have to come forward or how will we help our workers?
[Via the Guardian]