The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety has put the first set of inspection reports up on its Web site, furthering the push for transparency in the Bangladesh apparel industry.
This story first appeared in the May 20, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The alliance is a group of 26, mainly American, apparel companies, retailers and brands including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp., J.C. Penney Co. Inc., VF Corp., Fruit of the Loom Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp. that have been working together to improve worker safety in garment factories in the country after the collapse of Rana Plaza in April 2013.
“The alliance is committed to publish all inspection reports publicly. As such, we have released inspection reports from more than 25 factories on our Web site. We will continue to release additional reports in the weeks and months to come,” Ian Spaulding, the organization’s senior adviser, told WWD.
The list of factory reports is the first set that has been made public for the 508 factories that have been inspected by the alliance teams so far.
A total of 626 factories will be inspected by July 10, the one-year anniversary of the formation of the alliance.
The reports show the amount of work that needs to be done to improve worker safety in Bangladesh. “All factories that we have inspected have issues that need to be improved,” Spaulding said. “Common issues include inadequate fire-suppression equipment, lack of fire doors and poor electrical wiring. From a structural perspective, while the majority of buildings are safe, there are a few instances when the building is overloaded and the factory needs to take immediate action to reduce the load and reinforce columns.”
The inspection reports include detailed findings on fire, electrical and structural areas as well as draft corrective action plans.
The evaluations made by the inspectors are shared on the site with the factory’s owner and worker representatives at the end of the alliance’s investigation, allowing for any questions regarding the actions that need to be taken. The final reports and the corrective action plans will evolve as changes are agreed upon and more detailed corrective action plans are drawn up.
The alliance’s Web site said that as changes are made to these corrective action plans, they will be updated on the Web sites of both the alliance and the Bangladesh government.
Although employers had earlier agreed to the format, now they are concerned about the new level of transparency.
“We have already said this earlier — that selective sharing is a better measure,” Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the Bangladesh Garment and Manufacturers Exporters Association, told WWD. “It is better if the information is shared with the factory, the government, the brand and the BGMEA,” he said, explaining that some manufacturers were also working with other regions and countries, such as Latin America, Brazil and China, and not only with the alliance.
But alliance managing director Mesbah Rabin replied, “The transparency is necessary. It was needed because it was one of the declarations of the National Tripartite plan of action that all findings would be made public. It is the decision of the government, we are supporting that decision.”
Azim said that as factory owners have begun work on corrective action, which will continue in the coming months, the situation with the Alliance factories was fairly stable overall. “At this point only three factories out of 508 have been found to have had serious problems. That is less than 1 percent of the factories as of now,” he said.
He explained that it was not only the Rana Plaza tragedy that started the improvements in factories, but rather inspections were being done earlier and more consistently by companies such as Wal-Mart, Gap and Target Corp.
“Much more important and threatening for the factory owners than all the other issues is where the funds for the remediation [corrective actions] are going to come from,” Azim said.
The National Action Plan has a commitment to release the inspection data of all the country’s garment factories. The Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety, made up of mainly European brands and retailers, has already uploaded 10 inspection reports on its Web site. Two of the 28 listed by the alliance so far also are listed by the accord — Atif Garments Ltd and Dragons Sweater Ltd.
“While it may seem lists of small things, the sum total that it comes to is an enormous amount,” said a factory owner who asked not to be identified about the inspection process and the corrective steps subsequently demanded. “Sometimes it is just small things, as in the storage of the items or the finished products. But we are trying to address all of it.”
Some common points in the reports include damage in beams, issues with stacking of garments and wall-bearing systems. The report on Atif Garments, for example, cites “hair cracks in beams of some of the floors and roof slab in the building.”
It points out that while there is “no imminent danger in the building,” there is a requirement for a detailed structural assessment “within the next 60 days.”
Others, like Dragon Sweaters, have even less critical issues. “The building is found in good condition,” the report noted. “There is no structural distress observed during our visual inspection except a slab damp in 14th floor. Visually we have found a good sign of structural framing and also found all structural drawing. Also we have observed that some of the maintenance work (brick wall, slab, painting, etc.) is ongoing.”
The search for documents at the factories relating to structural and safe load management appears to be one of the recurring issues.
At Voyager Apparels Ltd., the report noted “some structural and nonstructural hair cracks are found due to shrinkage of concrete. There is some dampness observed outside and inside of the building which required proper maintenance plan. Though building is not having any visual sign of distress, there is no credible document to validate the soundness of structural and safe load management,” the report said.
Another recurring point is the need to install the “required fire-rated door assemblies at all exits” and “provide required fire resistive-rated opening protection (door, window, hatch cover, etc.) at openings and penetrations through fire-rated walls and/or assemblies.”
In the cases where the factories are considered completely unsafe, the alliance recommendation for immediate closure is followed by a review of a panel of experts. The final decision is taken by the government of Bangladesh. RSI Apparels and Jan Fabrics are two factories that have been shut down recently after inspections by alliance teams.
MAM Garments Ltd. and Bay Fashions Ltd. are still under review by the panel after its recommendations.