Cornell University is the latest educational institution to support the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding pact between apparel makers and trade unions developed in the wake of recent workplace catastrophes in the garment industry.
The university said it will require licensees of Cornell apparel to sign and abide by the accord, which calls for independent inspections by trained fire and building safety inspectors at factories used by members. When inspections reveal problems at a factory, the companies using the factory will share the costs of retrofitting the structure.
The accord comes in the wake of Rana Plaza building collapse (pictured at right), which killed 1,129 workers and injured another 2,500 workers in April 2013. Prior to that, some 300 workers died in factory fires in Bangladesh and other countries. Most of the workers died because of the absence of properly constructed fire exits or from being trapped behind locked doors and windows.
“Cornell is taking this step to ensure that workers who make Cornell logo apparel do not have to work in buildings that are structurally unsound, lack proper fire safety measures or both,” said Cornell president David Skorton. “We believe the accord is a fair, transparent and unbiased approach to factory inspection and remediation. It is clear that the inspection practices that have been in place for years have not been effective in preventing these types of tragedies.”
To date, more than 130 companies have signed the accord. Collectively, those companies conduct business with more than 1,600 Bangladeshi factories employing more than 2 million workers.
Mike Powers, chair of Cornell’s Licensing Oversight Committee and a board member of the Worker Rights Consortium, noted that five of the 18 Cornell licensees that have disclosed sourcing goods from Bangladesh already have become signatories to the accord. They include industry giants Adidas and Fruit of the Loom, which owns Russell Athletic.
Licensees that have not signed the accord have received letters informing them of the university’s new requirement, Powers added.
Cornell is the sixth university to add the accord to its licensing requirements. The others are Duke, NYU, Penn, Temple and Penn State.