Paradigm Shift or Business as Usual: Workers' Views on Multi-stakeholder Initiatives in Bangladesh
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The scale of the tragedy at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, in which more than 1,000 garment factory workers died when the building collapsed in April 2013, galvanized a range of stakeholders to take action to prevent future disasters and to acknowledge that business as usual was not an option. Prominent in these efforts were the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (hereafter the Accord) and the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers’ Safety (hereafter the Alliance), two multi‐stakeholder agreements that brought global buyers together in a coordinated effort to improve health and safety conditions in the ready‐made garment industry. These agreements represented a move away from the buyer‐driven, compliance‐based model, which hitherto dominated corporate social responsibility initiatives, to a new cooperation‐based approach. The Accord in particular, which included global union federations and their local union partners as signatories and held global firms legally accountable, was described as a ‘paradigm shift’ with the potential to improve industrial democracy in Bangladesh. This article is concerned with the experiences and perceptions of workers in the Bangladesh garment industry regarding these new initiatives. It uses a purposively designed survey to explore the extent to which these initiatives brought about improvements in wages and working conditions in the garment industry, to identify where change was slowest or absent and to ask whether the initiatives did indeed represent a paradigm shift in efforts to enforce the rights of workers.