Showing its willingness to be transparent and share progress, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety held a press briefing in Dhaka Thursday. The Alliance represents a group of North American apparel brands and retailers including Gap, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Target, VF Corp. and Wal-Mart.
Led by Ellen O’Kane Tauscher, chair of the Alliance, this was the first such interaction after the group’s new board was revealed earlier this month. Several of the board members were present at the meeting. The members, who represent a range of labor, government and academia in Bangladesh, included M. Rumee Ali, director of BRAC, and Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. Rabin Mesbah, Alliance vice president and managing director, and Ian Spaulding, Alliance senior adviser, were also present.
Separately, the new board had its first meeting this week in Dhaka.
Talking about the progress of the initiatives so far, Tauscher said that 50 percent of the inspections have been completed, with nearly 700 factories from which Alliance members source having been reviewed. She said that more than 400,000 factory managers and workers had already been trained, and the intent was to train more than one million by July.
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The training program has included different levels of factory personnel, including management, trade union members and workers’ representatives.
A grim reminder of the role of managers has been both the Tazreen fire in November 2012, when managers and security personnel allegedly blocked an exit and urged workers to go back to work and 112 workers were killed, and the Rana Plaza disaster last April, when the building owner and management personnel reportedly urged workers to go back to work despite apparent cracks in the building and reports that the building was unsafe.
The Alliance training programs also help workers identify safety risks, empower them to communicate concerns and inform them of the best way to evacuate the building in the event of an emergency.
Tauscher said the Alliance remained steadfast in its promise to bring change to the women and men whose livelihoods depend on the safety of these factories. “It has been our honor to return to Dhaka this week to update key partners on our progress and ensure that we are living up to our commitment to help create a safer Bangladesh ready-made garment industry,” she said.
She also addressed an issue that has caused concern among factory owners in Bangladesh: the payment to workers if a factory that was considered hazardous was shut down for repair. Tauscher said the Alliance will pay 50 percent of the total salary of those garment factories that are temporarily closed or will be closed. This would be for a period of two months in each factory, and the funds would be paid through factory owners.
On Thursday, figures from the Export Promotion Board also provided good news to the garment industry. Figures for the last nine months showed total exports of $22.24 billion, with $18.05 billion of that garment exports.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the industry in the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy and election-inspired violence, the growth for the segment has continued, with knitwear exports totaling $8.83 billion, having grown by 16.4 percent, and the woven segment reaching $9.22 billion, up 14 percent.