The Politics and Struggle of Accountability: A Case Study of Bangladesh’s Ready-Made Garment (RMG) Industry
Accountability mechanisms such as multi-stakeholder accountability initiatives are commonly considered important to improve workers’ rights in developing countries where such rights are allegedly weak and corporate accountability practices often ignore workers’ interests. Several accountability mechanisms have been proposed and developed, but critical accounting and development literature shows accountability remains “elusive” (Belal et al., 2015, p. 55). The focus of this multi-disciplinary study is on codes of conduct (COCs) as an accountability initiative. Existing research points to problems associated with the design and operation of COCs in both developed and developing country contexts. However, these are often treated in a technical and apolitical way with little attention paid to the socio-political contexts in which accountability initiatives are embedded. This study focuses on Bangladesh’s ready-made garment (RMG) industry as a case study. The study critically evaluates the multi-stakeholder accountability initiatives and analyses the views, perspectives, ideologies, contestations and adversarial relations of the key stakeholders regarding the accountability initiatives. To achieve this, the study draws upon Brown’s (2009) dialogic accounting and other scholarly works (i.e., Fougère and Solitander, 2020; Goetz and Jenkins, 2005 and Newell, 2006) based on agonistic democracy theory. This research applies qualitative data collection methods, including interviews with a diverse range of actors and documentary sources. This study extends the recent research that emphasises the possibilities of dialogic accounting to facilitate critiques of neoliberalism and to support democratic development in accounting and accountability practice . In particular, this study extends the previous work by applying dialogic accounting in analysing the accountability initiatives (e.g., Accord and Alliance) within the context of a developing country. By identifying the discourses between powerholders (e.g., multinational brands and retailers, local factory owners) and marginalised groups (e.g., workers) in accountability practices, this study helps to surface the political contestation and provides a basis for advancing understanding of the most effective ways to ensure accountability to and for the marginalised workers. Drawing on the works of dialogic accounting scholars, this study provides an alternative perspective to reimagine accounting and accountability practices.