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The Power Of Collective Action

A good way to combat the race-to-the-bottom in recruitment practices is for companies to work together, using their collective buying-power leverage to demand more ethical practices.

By creating increased demand for ethical recruitment agencies that adhere to best practices such as those contained in the Dhaka Principles for Migration with Dignity, companies can spur a race-to-the-top in which standards are raised across the board.

The success of a collective approach can be observed in the significant improvements in factory safety within Bangladesh, following the adoption of Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.

After the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, the brands who had used the factories in Rana Plaza to make their clothes feared a consumer backlash. This caused them to demand higher safety standards. 220 of the brands to voluntarily sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (the Accord). A further 29 companies signed the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) [1].

The sheer number of signatories to the Accord and the Alliance sent a strong message to recruiters, factory owners and other brands. It became clear that consequences for noncompliance with the new standards, for both employers and buyers, could be significant. For example, if a factory owner was found to be mistreating workers who report breaches of the Accord, it would result in the loss of business from all 220 of the signatory brands [2].

As a result of the Accord and the Alliance, significant improvements were made in building and fire safety standards in Bangladeshi garment producing facilities between 2013 and 2018. A report published by the Penn State Center for Global Workers’ Rights found that over 2.5 million garment workers were positively impacted by improvements that reduced over 97,000 identified hazards in 1,600 factories [3]. Furthermore, 96 factories were closed for failing to comply with the Accord’s minimum safety standards.

The Accord and Alliance agreements highlight several ways in which collective action made a positive impact.

  1. The number of signatories for each group independently allowed for substantial improvements to be made in building and fire safety.

  2. Because the Alliance companies and the Accord companies conducted business at many of the same factories, the two agreements in tandem led to further improvements as the actions of one group impacted the other [4].

  3. The financial consequences for failing to comply to the new standards effectively drove factories to improve building and fire safety standards.

  4. These acts curbed international governments’ threats to suspend Bangladesh’s international trade preferences due to the lack of respect for safety and human rights of factory workers.

  5. The garment industry within Bangladesh has continued to grow substantially over the past 5 years, receiving increased investment every year.

As this case highlights, collective action can be a very effective tool for creating the incentives necessary to support improved labour standards.

At the Fair Labour Alliance, we actively encourage our members to collaborate and act collectively to improve their labour supply chains.

[1] Donaghey, J. and Reinecke, J. (2018)

[2] ibid

[3] Anner, M. (2018)

[4] Donaghey, J. and Reinecke, J. (2018)

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