The Bangladesh Alliance says 24 factories have now been fully remediated

The Bangladesh Alliance says 24 factories have now been fully remediated

The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety says it hopes its suspension of factories for lack of progress on remediation will be a final wake-up call to owners to step up their efforts as the third anniversary of Rana Plaza nears. 

In an update on the progress of the Alliance's five-year initiative, which has now reached the halfway point, the group said 24 factories have been fully remediated, with another six expected to reach closure on their Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) by the end of the month. Additionally, around 49% of all required repairs have been completed. But this means just 3% of the total factories used by Alliance member companies in Bangladesh are deemed to be safe.

"We are incredibly proud of what the Alliance has been able to accomplish in the last two-and-a-half years, and we continue to be motivated by the response we're seeing and hearing on the ground," says James Moriarty, executive director of the Alliance. "Factory workers tell us they feel safer, and owners tell us they have greater confidence in the safety and management of their facilities."

As a result of the remediation work, the Alliance says the number of Bangladesh garment factory fires has dropped by more than 90% in recent years – from 250 in 2012 to 30 in 2015. Moriarty, however, highlighted concern over the outbreak of several Bangladesh factory fires earlier this year. "This just underscores the need for factories to quickly complete the most critical remediation efforts," he says.

Bangladesh factory fire renews fears for worker safety

Zero tolerance

As part of the Alliance's efforts to make Bangladesh's garment factories safe, Moriarty says the group has a zero tolerance policy for factories that fail to make progress in addressing identified safety concerns. 

During the first quarter, the number of factories the Alliance suspended more than tripled, from 24 factories in December to 77 currently. And this trend, he says, is likely to continue.

"But this is about more than suspending factories that aren't making progress. It's about improving the hundreds of factories with which we will continue to do business. This year, we are redoubling our efforts to make sure factories prioritise progress on the issues that are most critical to life safety, which are often the most difficult and time consuming to remediate."

The Bangladesh government, however, is understood to have started re-assessing the status of over 80 garment factories with whom the Alliance and the Accord have severed business ties.

Ian Spaulding, senior advisor to the Alliance, told just-style that the suspension of any factory is "a last resort in order to drive behavioural change," but says the Government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) need to continue to do their job to "advocate…and hold those factory owners accountable."

He explains: "If we class them as being worthy of suspension, our hope is that the Government will take action and will demand that they remediate or they will shut down the building. They have the legal authority to do that, we don't, we only have the authority to ensure our members don't source from that factory. So we're hopeful that while suspension might be a bad thing for the factories, it might be that final wake-up call that gets the factory owner to begin to really remediate some of these issues that we know are putting workers' lives in jeopardy."

Transparency

The BGMEA, however, has taken issue with the Alliance's recent new policy of transparency, which sees a notification issued on the group's website within seven days of the suspension of any Alliance factory.  

The BGMEA is understood to have requested that these factories are not publicly named, saying it creates difficulties for factories doing business with existing buyers, and that new buyers will be looking to use this as a reason to reduce prices. 

Spaulding, however, says the Alliance is "proud" of its commitment to making the information public. 

"This level of transparency has never been done before globally. It's a trend for the industry and it's one of the great silver linings that Bangladesh is contributing to the global apparel industry, which is: we need to get more information publicly available so that buyers, consumers, factories, can all work to increase their performance throughout. I'm proud of this level of transparency and I hope it spreads outside of Bangladesh."

Bangladesh commitment 

The Bangladeshi garment industry was worth $25.5bn in 2014 thanks to its low labour costs, abundant labour, and duty-free access to western countries – and in the first half of the 2015/2016 financial year, garment exports increased by more than 9%. So brands are continuing to source from the country, despite the Rana Plaza disaster and the ongoing remediation work, according to the Alliance. 

Member companies, Moriarty says, remain committed to the country and to seeing the remediation through to the end. 

"Once you put in $50m to help an organisation like the Alliance then you are probably going to be there for the long haul. If you look at the exports to North America, the bulk do go to Alliance member companies. You'll see that those exports are growing pretty quickly. The Alliance members are there, they're continuing to buy, they are dealing with safer factories and they're making their preference known for safer factories by concentrating their orders in the factories that are making decent progress on fixing the issues that exist."

Moriarty says the Alliance, the Accord and other national initiatives are hoping for faster remediation, and that they remain optimistic due to the substantial change that has happened in the industry over such a short period of time. 

"We have a great foundation to see more CAP closure rates and a substantial increase in the year to come, but we should never say that this is a finish line. These factories and these management are only building and will always be on their guard. There was an earthquake today (13 April) and the 24 factories that were approved, I'm sure are going to need to review their performance to ensure they maintain the level we achieved in the last few months. There is always a constant reminder to ensure we maintain that safety."