The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety has spent its first year working to clean up Bangladesh’s tortured textile industry in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 in the country last April.
In its first annual report released Tuesday titled, “Protecting the Lives and Livelihoods of Bangladesh’s Garment Workers,” the Alliance, a five-year initiative aimed at improving workplace safety in Bangladesh’s garment factories, noted successes and setbacks faced in the effort to improve the country’s conditions. The organization has so far inspected all of its 587 member factories, developed initiatives to empower workers to voice concerns surrounding safety and made financial investments to support factory improvements.
For year one, the Alliance has:
- Developed and implemented the country’s first harmonized Fire Safety and Structural Integrity Standard
- Inspected 100 percent of its 587 factories
- Began rolling publication of all inspection reports and Corrective Action Plans to Alliance website
- Recommended to the NTC Review Panel to close or partially close ten unsafe factories
- Successfully advocated to the government to eliminate tariffs on key safety equipment, making critical items significantly more affordable
- Doubled the duration of compensation provided to displaced workers from two to four months
- Disbursed wages to approximately 1,000 workers displaced by factory remediation to date
- Set up an Alliance Worker Helpline, which is being piloted in 50 factories to allow workers to anonymously report safety issues without fear of repercussions
Alliance members, which include Gap, Macy’s, VF Corporation and Walmart, have also backed over $100 million in capital for their respective supply chains, according to the report.
In terms of improving worker skills, the Alliance has trained more than 1 million workers and managers in basic fire safety, and 97.8% of workers can correctly identify what to do in case of a fire. The Alliance also hosted the country’s first-ever International Trade Expo for Building and Fire Safety in Dhaka with nearly 3,000 vendors, factory owners and safety experts to provide access to high-quality, affordable safety equipment and the requisite expertise on their use and implementation.
“Our work is still in its early stages and much remains to be done. The first phase of our work– which focused on inspections and the Alliance Basic Fire Safety Training–is now complete. Looking forward, we are already preparing for an even more challenging task: the remediation of factories to bring them into compliance with strict safety standards. Helping supplier factories implement safety upgrades is imperative to ensuring worker safety and will be the focus of our efforts in the coming year,” the report noted.
By the numbers, 50 percent of Alliance factories are now in remediation. In order to facilitate the remediation process, the organization will provide financing options in the form of short to medium term loans and supply chain-based financing including post-shipment financing which allows factory owners to receive advance payment on goods in-transit at a discounted rate through a member company’s financial partners.
Despite these efforts, the U.S. said last month that Bangladesh had not yet done enough. USTR Michael Froman said in a statement that while the country has made some improvements to protect workers’ rights, concerns remain about the large number of factories yet to be inspected, the lack of progress on labor law reforms and continued reports about violence against labor activists. Bangladesh has more than 4,000 garment factories, so the Alliance achievement of inspecting nearly 600, while positive, still leaves many factories unchecked.
For the Alliance, year two will see inspectors, brands, factory owners and engineers working to source the right equipment, install necessary safety upgrades and comply with detailed corrective action plans.
Transparency will still be key, and the Alliance website will feature detailed inspection reports and remediation plans for all member factories in the supply chain. Brands and suppliers, as well as worker groups, consumers and civil society members will know which factories are in need of remediation and specifically what changes are due to be implemented, according to the report.
“As we move forward with the challenging task of remediation, we continue to recognize that the responsibility for safe factories is one shared by all stakeholders,” Alliance independent chair Ellen Tauscher said. “Together with garment factory owners, trade unions, the international development community and the government of Bangladesh, we are working to achieve the kind of revolutionary change that makes a difference to millions of individual workers, throughout the entire garment sector and to the nation as a whole. At the conclusion of our five year effort, we hope to have contributed to the creation of a sustainable system for factory safety, one that is led and overseen by the people of Bangladesh.”