GENEVA — A total of 30 large export-oriented garment factories have signed up to take part in the Better Work Bangladesh program and up to 100 factories are expected to be covered in 2015, a senior International Labor Organization official said.
“Suppliers of major buyers are enthusiastic to join,” said Dan Rees, director of Better Work. “Already 30 walked through the door representing about 50,000 garment workers.”
Large export factories with more than 500 employees are the initial entry point for the starting of the Bangladesh program, ILO officials said.
Better Work programs monitor apparel factories seeking to ensure working and safety conditions comply with global labor standards and periodically publish assessment reports of their monitoring activities. The Program engages with over 60 major brands and also with trade labor unions, government and employer’s representatives.
Rees, a corporate social responsibility expert, told WWD, “We will deal with as many factories as feasible in the first year,” and “the program is looking at 100 factories in 2015, and to reach in the third year, 300 factories.”
He expects the program will be supported by major buyers such as Hennes & Mauritz, Inditex, Gap Inc., Li & Fung and PVH Corp. But Rees acknowledged a number of factors have impacted ushering in the program in the South Asian nation.
“Security is a big issue at the moment,” he said. “The last quarter has been very troublesome.”
The political unrest and violence in Bangladesh has also affected the work of professional experts, from labor inspectors to health and safety specialists, on the ground, ILO officials said.
Another important element, Rees said, is the program “is waiting for the government of Bangladesh to implement regulations giving meaning to amendments initiated in 2013.”
“They are necessary to give authoritative accountability of work places inspected, “ he said.
Better Work management, which is made up of the ILO and International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank, decided to give the green light on a program in the country in October 2013 following passage of key labor reforms, spurred largely by the global outcry following industrial accidents in garment factories such as the Tazreen fire in late 2012 and the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013 that claimed the lives of more than 1,100 workers.
The addition of Bangladesh, the world’s second largest apparel exporting nation, which employs over 3.5 million workers in the garment sector, is expected to swell the number of factories worldwide under Better Work oversight.
Arianna Rossi, ILO research and policy officer on Better Work, said the program currently reaches 1,057 factories and nearly 1.2 million workers in eight countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Central America and the Caribbean. This includes Cambodia with 522 garment factories employing 495,176 workers, Vietnam with 300 factories and 384,228 workers, and Indonesia with 106 factories and 210,163 workers.
Rossi told WWD the program is also “conducting a feasibility study” on Myanmar, the first step in evaluating whether the appropriate conditions are in place to introduce a Better Work program.