Dhaka, Bangladesh (BBN)– Two global trade unions have expressed their grave concern over the recent observation of Bangladesh Finance Minister AMA Muhith on the Accord’s activities, saying such remarks would send a ‘negative’ signal to the buyers thus undermining the ongoing workplace safety initiatives.

Citing media reports, the unions said the finance minister in a recent meeting with the leaders of BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association), BKMEA (Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association) and BTMA (Bangladesh Textile Mills Association) characterised the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, generally known as Accord as a ‘noose for the apparel industry’.

“Your  remarks  wrongly  accuse  the  Accord  of  seeking  to  hold  back Bangladesh’s progress, when the reverse is true. As your government is well aware, the Accord came into being in response to the collapse of Rana Plaza, when it became evident to the world, and specifically to garment brands, that the safety of garment workers in Bangladesh could not be guaranteed,” the unions said in their joint letter to the finance minister.

More than 1,100 people were killed and 2000 more injured when the Rana Plaza garment factory complex collapsed in April 2013.

“The easiest response for the brands to this situation would be to walk away and look for safer countries to produce in. Instead, IndustriALL and UNI negotiated the Accord with more than 200 brands sourcing from Bangladesh, in order to demonstrate their commitment to the industry in Bangladesh by working with the factories to make them safe,” continues the letter.

The Accord has inspected 1,600 garment factories and made safety recommendations for each and every one.

“Let’s not forget that prior to the Accord, self-regulation by brands and government inspections failed to prevent Bangladesh’s worst-ever industrial accident,” said IndustriALL’s general secretary Jyrki Raina.

“The minister’s remarks are inaccurate and irresponsible. The Accord is a positive game changer for the Bangladeshi garment industry and his comments put at risk its future sustainability,” said Philip Jennings, UNI secretary general.

The minister reportedly made the comments at a meeting of garment industry employer associations.

He claimed that the confidence of the brands in the Bangladesh garment industry has already been won and therefore the Accord should cease its operations, the IndustriALL said. “This could not be farther from the truth. The danger for the Bangladeshi garment industry is not over and the factories are not yet safe.”

In their letter to the minister, Jyrki Raina and Philip Jennings call on the minister to stop sending negative messages to factories that could have the effect of delaying or undermining essential factory safety improvements.

IndustriALL and UNI have also written to BGMEA President Atiqul Islam to take issue with comments he made at the same meeting, and were subsequently reported in the media, describing the Accord as a ‘big problem’ for Bangladesh’s readymade apparel industry.

Islam’s remarks were made in relation to efforts by the Accord to ensure reinstatement of workers who were dismissed for reporting a fire and safety concern.

“It is crucial that workers can effectively raise violations of safety regulations and workers’ rights without fear of retaliation so that there is not a repeat of Rana Plaza when the workers did raise concerns but were forced into the building anyway,” said Raina.