As the four-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse approaches, apparel sector stakeholders are reevaluating Bangladesh’s progress in improving conditions. And one thing that hasn’t changed—some say improvements have been far reaching, while others still feel little has really changed at all.
Earlier this month, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety said 71 of its nearly 700 member factories have completed corrective action plans and that it expects that number to more than double over the next few months. What’s more, 72 percent of all the repairs the Alliance required have been completed, 142 factories have been suspended for failure to make enough progress on remediation and 1.3 million workers have been trained on how to protect themselves in an emergency.
“Thanks to these efforts, we’re witnessing a transformation of Bangladesh’s garment industry from one of the most dangerous in the world, to one of the safest,” Alliance executive director Ambassador James Moriarty said on a quarterly conference call.
On the less positive end of the spectrum, the EU threatened last month to pull Bangladesh’s free trade privileges under its Everything But Arms program if it fails to further improve labor conditions in short order.
What helped prompt the EU’s warning was a worker strike for higher wages in December that saw protesting employees abstain from work in an attempt to be heard, and later let go for participating in what employers considered an “illegal” strike. The EU also said it continues to receive reports of harassment and repression of trade unions in Bangladesh.
Whichever vantage point you see from, a report out Thursday said far more brands need to be transparent about where their clothes are made in order to avoid the kinds of disasters that brought Rana Plaza about to begin with.
17 apparel brands align with new transparency pledge
A coalition comprising nine unions and rights groups, including the Clean Clothes Campaign, Human Rights Watch and IndustriALL Global Union, has called for companies to adopt the Apparel and Footwear Supply Chain Transparency Pledge—and 17 apparel brands have already agreed.
Adidas, Asos, H&M, Hanesbrands, Levi’s, Nike and Patagonia are among the companies that agreed to align with the transparency pledge by December this year.
“Companies that align with the pledge agree to publish information identifying the factories that produce their goods, addressing a key obstacle to rooting out abusive labor practices across the industry and helping to prevent disasters like the Rana Plaza collapse,” a joint statement by the coalition said.
Of the 72 companies the coalition reached out to in seeking their adoption of the pledge, just 17 are in full alignment with it. Others reached—including Walmart, Primark and Dick’s Sporting Goods—haven’t made any commitments to publishing supplier factory information, some saying the move would put them at a commercial disadvantage. Zara parent company, Inditex, has declined to share its supplier list publicly, but does make the information available to IndustriALL and its affiliates for reporting under its Global Framework Agreement, which puts high standards in place for rights, health, safety and environmental practices.
“A basic level of supply chain transparency in the garment industry should be the norm in the 21st Century,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division. “Openness about a company’s supply chain is better for workers, better for human rights and shows that companies care about preventing abuse in their supply chains.”
According to the coalition’s statement, 29 global apparel companies had published some information about the factories they source from by the end of last year, and the Transparency Pledge was born of a desire to build on that momentum and move the industry toward a minimum standard for publishing supplier factory information.
“After Rana Plaza and other disasters, human rights groups, unions, and some companies and investors have seen how important transparency is for preventing abuses and for efforts at accountability,” said Ben Vanpeperstraete, lobby and advocacy coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign International Office. “Companies need to put transparency into practice to show that they respect human rights and decent working conditions.”