WASHINGTON — The chief safety inspector for the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh on Monday said inspection teams have partially shut down two “high-risk” garment factories.
This story first appeared in the March 11, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Accord said it plans to inspect 250 garment factories a month until 1,500 factories used by its apparel brands and retail members are inspected by the end of August.
“What that represents is 13 teams, including fire, electrical and structural, are on the ground every day,” Brad Loewen, the group’s chief safety inspector, said. “Basically, we are getting 250 inspections done in a month…so it is an aggressive plan.”
Led by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union and signed by 150 companies, including Inditex, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, Primark and C&A, the Accord is making its first inspection reports public. The initiative launched last year amid intense global scrutiny following the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. fire in November 2012 and the Rana Plaza building collapse last April that claimed the lives of more than 1,240 workers.
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The Accord’s executive directors, along with Loewen, released the names of 10 factories in the pilot project and some details about the results of the inspections. The full details and reports on the 10 factories are set to be revealed Tuesday in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and on the group’s Web site.
Some 70 more garment factories have been inspected by the Accord since the pilot project inspections were conducted in December. Teams first conducted inspections at the most high-risk garment factories, defined as those in buildings with five or more floors of production and used by multiple factories. Two plants were partially closed in the past week due to serious structural problems, Loewen said. The government of Bangladesh closed the two factories, per the Accord’s emergency protocol, and a review panel was established within 24 hours, Loewen said.
“In one of the factories, four floors out of eight had to be entirely evacuated — all of the people and equipment and everything right down to the floor. They were then allowed to carry on production on the other four floors,” he said, adding that fabrics and other materials had to be removed from the four floors and water tanks on the roofs had to be emptied. “So basically, we lightened up the buildings substantially and then allowed some production to go ahead.…There has [so far]…been a way to find a compromise that allows a reduced operation to continue.”
The review panel, comprised of engineers and government, labor and industry representatives, meets within 48 hours to review the closed factories and the facility can only be reopened if the four engineers approve it unanimously.
Accord officials also released the names of the 10 garment factories in the pilot project — Alif Garments Ltd., Anlima Textile Ltd., Big Boss Corp., Dragon Sweater, The Fashion Island Ltd., Grameen Knitwear Ltd., Majumder Fashions Ltd., Redpoint Jackets Ltd., Rio Fashion Wear Ltd. and Viyellatex Ltd.
Among some of the most common problems found in the pilot project were uncontrolled heavy storage loading areas, the lack of structural loading plans, locked gates and exits, absence of fire doors, lack of automatic sprinkler systems and electrical issues such as cables and wires not being identified or supported. Factory owners are required to pay for repairs outlined in the remediation plan, but brands are expected to help them identify sources of funding if they don’t have the resources.
Inspectors give factories two-weeks notice before an inspection. The inspection report includes a remediation plan that is sent to the factory owners, brands and worker representatives within two weeks of the inspection date. Those entities develop a final remediation plan, reviewed by Accord staff, which is then implemented. A public report of each inspection will be posted on the Accord’s Web site within six weeks.
Asked why inspectors give two weeks notice to factory owners and do not go in unannounced, Alan Roberts, the Accord’s executive director of international operations, said: “We are not actually trying to catch people out here. What we are trying to do is create a sustainable safe future for factories in Bangladesh. We believe by working with the factories in an open, honest and transparent way, that we will create the right relationships to build on. That is a five-year process.”
Roberts said unannounced factory inspections in the past have sent a message that the inspectors don’t trust the factories, “and that is not the spirit or intent of what the accord is about.” Loewen added that, in general, “there has been very good cooperation at all levels. We trust that will continue.”