DHAKA, Bangladesh — While change is ongoing in the Bangladesh apparel industry after the tragic Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013, both the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety are being watched keenly in Dhaka.
Ian Spalding, the alliance’s senior adviser, is a key person responsible for implementing the plans of the group of 26 retailers and brands, mainly from North America. Here, he talks with WWD about how the organization is handling some of the more complex issues that are emerging as the alliance establishes an office in Dhaka and begins its factory inspections and training programs.
WWD: What is the count on factory inspections at this time? Ian Spalding: Well, it’s a moving target, but as of Wednesday, 508 inspections have been done and 119 are remaining. It’s really important to keep in mind that doing inspections is incredibly complicated. We use electrical engineers, fire engineers, structural engineers and prior to the establishment of the alliance, there were individual companies that did their own inspections. We did a review of those inspections and found that some of those were completely ineffective and some were not very good at all. Others were very thorough and largely equivalent of the alliance-led inspections. So when we talk about inspections of the 508 factories, that includes alliance-led inspections by our team in Bangladesh with seven local firms and some previous inspections that Wal-Mart, Gap, Children’s Place and few other companies have done themselves and that have been accepted for their equivalency. The total number of factories to be inspected is 626.
WWD: Does it seem realistic to inspect all of these by July 10? I.S.: It does. We’ve made a commitment and we will fulfill it, but it’s also important to mention that the inspection is the start of a very long journey of remediation. It doesn’t mean that we don’t go back and evaluate a factory in July or September if there is a need to reevaluate a factory or in order to prove that the factory has remediated. There will be a need for some ongoing inspections to happen after July. But we have to have a milestone and a target, and that target is July 10, one year from the founding of the alliance. We are well on our way and we are confident that we will achieve it.
WWD: How have employers reacted to inspections? Have they been against them? Do they see them as cultural imperialism? I.S.: It’s hard to say all factories think the same way. Some factories are going to be incredibly scared and frustrated and anxious about anything that we do. They’re scared of what the ramifications are, they’re scared of losing the business, etc. The others are going to be quite comfortable because they see this as a benefit and a way to reassure themselves that their factories are safe. From our perspective, what we’ve done, which is different from other initiatives that are out there, is that we have really brought stakeholders along, we have BGMEA [Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association] on our board of directors, we’ve done a fair amount of outreach to the industry to establish good relations with them; in addition, we’ve provided many training and orientation sessions for factory owners so that they can understand what we’re doing.
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