The Alliance says 28 factories have been fully remediated after completing their Corrective Action Plans (CAPs), a 17% increase since the last update in April.

The Alliance says 28 factories have been fully remediated after completing their Corrective Action Plans (CAPs), a 17% increase since the last update in April.

The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety says it will stay the course in the south Asian country despite two recent terrorist attacks  – and that apparel brands and retailers remain committed to sourcing garments there.

The Alliance is now three years into its five-year initiative, and in a progress update this week the group said it will continue to work to improve safety in Bangladesh's garment factories, despite the "unspeakable tragedies" in which 24 people lost their lives.

Many of the victims worked in the country's textile and clothing industry, and the attacks have left the country's key garment industry in turmoil, with buyers rethinking travel plans and potential economic fallout for a sector reliant on foreign investment.  

"This is a serious issue that's cropped up, it's a big problem that needs to be addressed," Alliance executive director James Moriarty said on a call from Dhaka. "But frankly you're seeing a problem that is three inches wide and three miles deep.

"There is a lot of anger here in Bangladesh about what has happened. There is real revulsion against what has happened. If that revulsion turns into action, if you do see effective action against the small minority of people who are trying to destroy much of what is it good in Bangladeshi society, then the long-term impacts will be limited [and] Bangladesh goes back to being a relatively safe, relatively harmonious country where people don't fear attacks.

"If things worsen, then well the country will be in for a rough time. I do have confidence that the people who are committing these attacks represent a very small minority with very little support that could be addressed, but obviously needs to be addressed through focused unified action on the part of the good people in the country."

Moriarty added that while a lot of the major brands are holding off on unnecessary travel, and implementing travel bans for external personnel coming into Bangladesh, he was not aware of anybody actually withdrawing personnel from Bangladesh nor of anybody cancelling contracts.

"I think that there is an inclination to continue to do business with Bangladesh. It's an important player and, as we look at the work we've accomplished, it's making tremendous progress in a number of areas, particularly safety.

"What we are seeing right now is the companies, the brands, not sending buyers or people out from their home countries, and basically indicating to the factory owners they will be meeting outside the country to discuss orders and other issues."

Terrorist attack "a tipping point" for Bangladesh?

Moriarty said the Alliance – made up of 28 mainly US firms, including Wal-Mart Stores, Target Corp, Gap Inc and VF Corp – is reviewing and updating its policies to help keep staff and contractors safe. But he stressed: "Our work to improve safety in Bangladesh's garment factories will continue at full speed."  

Since the last update in April, the group said 28 factories have been fully remediated after completing their Corrective Action Plans (CAPs), an increase of 17%.

Bangladesh Alliance factory suspensions a "wake-up call"

Across all factories, more than one-third of the issues most critical to life safety have already been addressed, two years ahead of the deadline. But since the end of the first quarter another six factories have been suspended for failing to make adequate remediation progress – bringing the total factories suspended to 83.

Remediation progress

As part of the Alliance's efforts to make Bangladesh's garment factories safe, Moriarty says the group has also updated how it evaluates their progress toward remediation.

Instead of penalising factories that are making steady progress but may be stalled in some areas due to circumstances they can't control, such as delays in importing necessary equipment, a factory's status will now reflect whether it's on track to meet remediation requirements by July 2018, the Alliance's deadline.

Moriarty said the change has been made following conversations with factory owners, the BGMEA, the National Fire Protection Association, the Accord and other key stakeholders.

"This new approach allows us to encourage factories to fast-track remediation of issues most critical to life safety, rather than concentrate on relatively simple, but not as critical, fixes," he added.

Additionally, the Alliance has provided financial compensation to nearly 7,000 workers displaced by remediation – fulfilling 100% of requests from factory owners. It has also completed training for democratically elected worker safety committees in 34 factories, with further training due to launch for another 60 in the next few months.

It added that more than 1.1m workers in over 770 factories now have access to its 24-hour worker helpline which, to date, has logged more than 66,500 calls from both Alliance and non-Alliance factory workers.

Transition

In terms of the July 2018 Alliance "sunset", Moriarty said the Alliance is working towards the "best possible solution" to ensure its work continues, including working with factory owners and member companies who the group believes will be in a position to take back substantially safe factories in two years time.

"We are continuing our work, we believe it is important and we believe that we're having a real impact," he said.

"Fundamentally I think the work on the ground is going extremely well, I think we will be in a very good place by 2018 – but I acknowledge the toughest question of all is what do we do about the transition. I encounter a lot of goodwill out here, a lot of people want to see this work out so I'm actually pretty confident that we will be able to put in place a successful transition by the middle of 2018."