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New Report Says Bangladesh Alliance Overstated Factory Progress

A report out this week by labor rights organizations said the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety has inflated the progress made by factories in the Southeast Asian nation’s garment sector.

In their analysis of remediation progress at Alliance member factories, the International Labor Rights Forum, the Worker Rights Consortium, the Clean Clothes Campaign and Maquila Solidarity Network, said they found “considerable delays” in repairing factories’ safety defects.

“Even more concerning is the fact that the Alliance overstates progress: many other factories listed as ‘on track’ on the Alliance website still face major safety hazards,” Clean Clothes Campaign said in a statement on its website. “This means that hundred thousands of workers stitching clothes for Walmart, Gap, VF Corporation, Target and Hudson’s Bay Company, and their European subsidiaries Asda (Walmart), Galeria Kaufhof and Galeria Inno (both HBC), continue to work in hazardous conditions.”

The Alliance was born out of the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers in Bangladesh in 2013 with the aim of addressing fire safety, structural and electrical hazards in factories there over the duration of the project’s five-year life.

In its most recent report, the Alliance said it has made “significant progress” toward its goal of improving the ready-made garment sector’s safety in Bangladesh. It said it has been working with member factories to prioritize the most critical repairs, including installing fire doors and reinforcing structural beams. So far, according to the Alliance, 55 percent of those high-priority repairs have been completed.

At the time of the report’s release in October, Ellen O’Kane Tauscher, independent chair of the Alliance said, “By July 2018, all Alliance factories will have either completed their high-priority repairs or have been suspended from the Alliance’s list of suppliers.”

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The quad of labor rights orgs identified 175 factories covered by both the Alliance and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh making for the aforementioned major brands. What it found in looking at what was described as “detailed” inspection reports from the Accord, was that more than half of them, which were all inspected more than a year and a half ago, still don’t have adequate fire exits, lack approved fire alarm systems or still have “major” structural problems.

“As we have been forced to rely on reporting by the Accord for this recent assessment we can only judge progress in the limited group where both initiatives are playing a role in improving repairs,” Sam Maher from Clean Clothes Campaign said. “Because of the lack of transparency in the Alliance reporting we have no way of knowing if the risks are even more severe in those workplaces where no public scrutiny is possible. Worst still, the workers employed in Alliance factories have no independent way of monitoring how safe they really are at work and must continue risking their safety to make our clothes.”

The Alliance is backed mostly by American brands like Gap, Hudson’s Bay, Macy’s, Target and Walmart, but Clean Clothes Campaign said the initiative’s failure to publicly report remediation progress should be of concern to European consumers too as many Alliance member brands and retailers have a sizeable presence in Europe.

Designating factories as “on track” when they aren’t, Clean Clothes Campaign said, “disregards the failure of factories to address major structural fire hazards within the agreed timelines, thereby creating an exaggerated picture of progress.”

In a response released Tuesday, the Alliance said it stands by its progress, and that in several areas, the report “misrepresents and oversimplifies the complexities of the Alliance and the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety’s efforts to improve worker safety in Bangladesh.”

Tauscher said in the statement that the Alliance maintains an ongoing relationship with the Accord meeting monthly and working closely to remediate factories. According to Tauscher, the Accord has never raised any of the issues noted in the report.

Because of setbacks like no suppliers in Bangladesh for the sprinkler system that meets Alliance standards and a lack of internationally-rated fire doors, has meant that, at times, sustainable fixes have taken longer than expected, Tauscher said. But the Alliance is working with suppliers to help them import these things from international markets.

As Tauscher stressed, “There is no doubt that the Alliance has had a transformative impact in strengthening the structural integrity of Bangladeshi factories where millions of women and men make a living each day. We have proven this strong commitment to improve workplace safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry through concrete actions and results.”