WASHINGTON — The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety said it has made significant progress on “high-priority” critical repairs in the apparel factories used by its member brands and retailers in the Asian nation, according to its third annual report released Thursday.
The Alliance — made up of 29 mainly U.S. firms, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Gap Inc. and VF Corp. — reported that 55 percent of the targeted high-priority repairs in apparel factories in Bangladesh have been completed.
The industry-led initiative was formed in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy, which claimed the lives of 1,133 workers and injured more than 2,000, along with the separate Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, comprised of 200 mostly European companies with two global unions, IndustriALL and UNI Global Union.
The Alliance has been working for nearly three years as part of a five-year commitment to inspect factories in Bangladesh, which currently stand at about 685.
“By July 2018, all Alliance factories will have either completed their high-priority repairs or have been suspended from the Alliance’s list of suppliers,” said Ellen Tauscher, independent chair of the Alliance. “Progress toward this goal has been significant, and achieving closure on the remaining issues most critical to life safety remains our primary focus.”
The most critical repairs are considered those that are “most important for life safety” and are often the most costly and time-consuming for factories to achieve, the Alliance said. Such repairs include the importation and installation of fire doors, the reinforcement of structural beams and columns and the installation of sprinkler systems.
The Alliance said it also is continuing to build up a program, launched in April, to establish worker safety committees, which will be comprised of workers trained to monitor on-site occupational safety and health issues. It said the number of committees has more than tripled to 54 from 16 since April and the group expects the majority of Alliance factories to have functioning committees by July 2018.
“Achieving safety in factories is about more than completing repairs. It must be accompanied by comprehensive efforts to inform, engage and empower the women and men who earn their living in garment factories,” James F. Moriarty, country director of the Alliance, said. “By approaching remediation and empowerment hand in hand, we are working to set the gold standard for garment factories throughout Bangladesh.”
The Alliance performs independent inspections on the structural, electrical and fire safety of all factories from which its members source.
Factories receive corrective action plans aimed at helping address safety issues and achieving compliance with the Alliance’s safety standards. The group also provides technical advice and access to low-cost loans to assist factories with remediation. It said it is on track to remediate all critical safety issues in its active factories by 2018.
To date, the Alliance has suspended a total of 97 non-compliant factories for failure to make progress on repairs that address safety concerns. Forty factories have completed the critical repairs outlined in their CAPs, according to the annual report. Across all active Alliance factories, 63 percent of all required repairs have been completed, including the 55 percent of high-priority repairs.
In addition, the Alliance said more than 1.2 million workers have been trained in basic fire safety and nearly 800,000 have received an interactive refresher course.
Some 23,000 security guards have gone through fire safety leadership training, and help lines have been established for workers inside and outside of Alliance factories, which receive an average of 4,200 calls a month. Nearly 90,000 calls have been placed on the help lines since they were established.