WASHINGTON — The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which includes Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc., VF Corp. and Target Corp., said it is shifting its main operation from Washington to Dhaka, where it recently opened a local office and operation.
As part of the shift, the alliance said its president and chief executive officer, Jeffrey Krilla, is stepping down but will continue as a senior adviser. Ellen Tauscher, chair of the alliance’s board, will continue to lead the group and will be based in Washington.
The alliance, with 26 company members, represents one of two industry initiatives launched in the aftermath of two factory tragedies in Bangladesh that claimed the lives of more than 1,240 workers and thrust the Asian country’s garment industry and inadequate fire and safety standards into the global spotlight. The other initiative, known as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, is led by IndustriALL Global Union and UNI Global Union and has 150 member companies, including Inditex, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, Primark and C&A.
The alliance said it is shifting the “majority of its work” to Dhaka, where it said technical and programmatic experts are focused on factory inspections, developing a worker training curriculum and establishing a worker help line in all of the factories covered by the alliance.
It will continue to have a “limited presence” in Washington, but plans to make its Dhaka office, where 15 staff members are in place, its primary hub. The group plans to increase the staff to 18 by the end of the month. All staff members in Bangladesh are nationals with significant experience in the country’s garment industry.
“In only six months’ time, we delivered on so many critical milestones, most notably standards harmonization,” Krilla said. “The transition to Dhaka is a necessary change that will keep the garment worker front and center as the organization determines how to facilitate training, implement the worker help line and partner with the government to build local capacity.”
Earlier this month, the alliance said it had reached several goals since it launched its five-year fire and building safety initiative last July. It said 31 percent, or 222, of the 700 garment factories its members use in Bangladesh have been inspected. The group also said it plans to implement help lines in 50 factories by March and roll out help lines to 100 factories by March 2015 with the goal of installing them in all 700 factories by 2017.
But the group has also faced some criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and from worker’s rights groups over its lack of union representation. The alliance and accord, representing over 175 global retailers and apparel brands collectively, have tried to find some common ground, reaching an agreement in November on a mutual set of standards on fire and building safety. But differences remain over how to ensure worker and building safety, and the divisions between the two initiatives raise questions about how quickly improvements can be made in Bangladesh.