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BNP Paribas, Nordea and Church of England urge big brands not to ditch workers’ rights agreement

The day before the eighth anniversary of Rana Plaza, $2.2tn investor group wades in to the debate over future of safeguards

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BNP Paribas Asset Management, Nordea Asset Management and the Church of England Pensions Board are among 176 investors urging global fashion brands not to ditch a workers’ rights agreement created in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster. 

The $2.2tn coalition has issued a statement calling on companies to recommit to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which expires at the end of May. 

Created in 2013, the legal-binding agreement sets out safeguarding expectations for workers in Bangladesh’s vast textile industry. The move came after the collapse of a factory in the Rana Plaza killed more than 1,000 people and injured more than 2,500 others. Tomorrow marks the eighth anniversary of the tragedy. 

‘As investors who continually assess human rights risks in our portfolio companies, we have confidence in the Accord model and want to see it expand to other countries as the global garment sector looks to 'build back better’’- Arthur van Mansvelt, Achmea

Brands including Hugo Boss, H&M and John Lewis signed the Accord, committing them to be transparent about their suppliers, and to use suppliers that participate in workplace health and safety initiatives, undergo inspections and take part in remediation programmes. 

“The Bangladesh Accord has made significant improvements in fire and building safety for over two million garment workers in factories in Bangladesh,” said Arthur van Mansvelt, Senior Engagement Specialist at Achmea Investment Management.

However, there are concerns that some companies don’t plan to endorse an updated version of the agreement once the current text expires. Instead, they are pushing for all responsibilities to be transferred to the national RMG Sustainability Council that took over the inspection responsibilities of the Accord. That Council, known as the RSC, does not have the same legal status or enforcement mechanisms. 

Today’s investor statement claims that without an updated Accord, “there will be no enforceable brand commitments to ensure the proper functioning of the RSC and no independent organization to report on its performance. The RSC cannot serve as a reliable guarantor of workers’ safety under those circumstances.”

The statement also includes calls to roll the model of the Accord out to other countries, as investor awareness grows around supply chain due diligence and human rights. 

“The success of the agreement is largely due to the legally binding nature of the agreement, that makes it stand out from many other sustainability initiatives in the industry. As investors who continually assess human rights risks in our portfolio companies, we have confidence in the Accord model and want to see it expand to other countries as the global garment sector looks to 'build back better”, van Mansvelt added. 

At a webinar yesterday, Ineke Zeldenrust, International Coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign and witness signatory to the Accord, said investors need to engage with the brands they are invested in to sign a renewed agreement “or otherwise apply sanctions”. 

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