An informal garment factory located on the outskirts of the center of Dhaka.

The fourth annual report of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety released Wednesday morning in Dhaka listed 234 factories as having completed their safety requirements, and the suspension of 162 non-compliant factories from the Alliance list of 658 factories in the country.

The Alliance, a group of 29 global retailers that have undertaken to improve the safety of factories they source from in Bangladesh, is made up of mostly North American brands and retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Gap Inc., and VF Corp. The five-year agreement by the group was made shortly after the collapse of the nine-story apparel manufacturing building Rana Plaza in April 2013, which killed more than 1,100 workers.

“The pace of remediation has picked up tremendously in this year,” James Moriarty, the Alliance’s executive director, told WWD, speaking about the four-year round-up. “We can say with some degree of confidence that a vast majority of the factories will have completed their corrective action plans by next summer.”

The report is titled “Dawn of a New Era in Safety: Accelerating Progress in the Alliance’s Final Year Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety Annual Report November 2017.”

The report cited that more than 85 percent of the total of 658 Alliance factories have completed all required factory repairs, including 80 percent of high-priority repairs.

One of the key areas of concern in terms of safety has been shared factory premises in a single building. “I don’t have an exact number but yes, a majority of the 162 factories were in a shared space. Many of these have taken new premises, or voluntarily shut down. A few have achieved their correction plans and come back into the system,” Moriarty said. “The pace of suspensions has virtually come to a standstill. We might have a few more suspensions, but I doubt that there will be any in large numbers.”

Training of managers, security guards and workers has also been stepped up in the past year. “To date, 26,814 security guards have undergone initial training across 924 factories. And this past year, the Alliance also began to offer a refresher training to security guards, which has reached 19,746 guards across 629 factories,” the report noted.

To help workers stay alert and have a voice has been part of the mandate, and this year, democratically elected worker safety committees that give workers a seat at the table in monitoring safety issues have been established in 171 factories.

Moriarty pointed out that another key area of growth has been the worker help line, which reached more than 1.3 million workers across 941 Alliance and non-Alliance factories over the last year. Examples of how this confidential worker help line, called Amader Kotha, which means “our voice,” has helped safety issues are included in the report.

“Before the Alliance entered Bangladesh, there were few avenues for garment workers to actively voice their concerns in the workplace without the threat of retribution. This is one of our most essential tools for empowering workers to safely and anonymously report safety issues and workplace concerns in real-time,” Moriarty observed.

Finally, the report identified some crucial issues to be dealt with in the next year. The Alliance has already revealed that it intends to complete its mandate within the stipulated five-year term, by July 2018. To this end, the report cites two main goals for the coming year — “moving aggressively to remediate all outstanding material issues in Alliance factories, and identifying the best next steps to sustain and carry forward our groundbreaking reforms to promote the continuation of best practices and an enduring culture of safety.”

“As of the release this annual report, the Alliance and its members are making steady headway toward partnering on a new safety organization in Bangladesh that would be independent, credible and operate on a sustainable business model,” the report noted.

Moriarty said, “We want to ensure that we can set up something that is credible. We do recognize that we have to pass on the knowledge of what we have learned, and that the factory owners can have a system they can rely on. That’s going to be the goal — to leave a credible system so that the brands can know the factories continue to be safe.

“Our transition is not so much a sunset, but rather the dawn of a new era in safety that we are committed to sustaining by building on the best practices and lessons learned,” he observed.

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