The aim of the Alliance is to improve safety in Bangladeshs ready-made garment factories

The aim of the Alliance is to improve safety in Bangladesh's ready-made garment factories

The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety is concealing its lack of action and overstating its remediation progress, while retailers including Gap Inc and Walmart are failing to fulfil their commitment to make supplier garment factories safe, labour rights organisations claim.

The Alliance was set up by 28 North American retailers and brands in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 2013 with a remit to improve safety in Bangladesh's ready-made garment factories over a five-year period. 

Three and a half years into the commitment, however, and a report 'Dangerous Delays on Worker Safety' produced by International Labor Rights Forum, Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign and Maquila Solidarity Network, claims there are "considerable" delays in repairing safety defects in factories supplying Alliance  member companies.

The investigation, which involved 175 factories covered by both the Accord and Alliance, found the Accord inspection report detailed more than half as still not having appropriate fire exits, an approved fire alarm system or as having major structural problems. On the Alliance website, meanwhile, the report states that many of the researched factories are listed as "on track" in remediating safety hazards. 

Specifically, of the Alliance factories investigated that are designated 'on-track', the groups found 41% to have uncorrected structural problems, 57% to have compromised fire exits, and 58% without a properly functioning fire alarm system.

This 'on track' designation, the groups say, "disregards the failure of factories to address major structural and fire hazards within the agreed timelines, thereby creating an exaggerated picture of progress".

Further, it says Alliance member brands, including Gap, Target, VF Corp, Hudson's Bay and Walmart, are "failing to fulfil their commitments to make their supplier factories safe, leaving hundreds of thousands workers at risk." 

"Rather than hold member companies accountable, the Alliance is concealing its lack of action by refusing to publish detailed information on factory progress and by reporting some factories as 'on track' on safety renovations when, in fact, they have failed to implement key renovations by mandated deadlines," report authors say. 

While the Accord is a multi-stakeholder initiative with a role for workers' representatives and a high level of transparency, the Alliance is controlled entirely by the companies themselves and has "limited" and "selective" reporting, the labour rights groups explain. 

"As we have been forced to rely on reporting by the Accord for this recent assessment we can only judge progress in the limited group where both initiatives are playing a role in improving repairs," says Sam Maher from Clean Clothes Campaign.

"Because of the lack of transparency in the Alliance reporting we have no way of knowing if the risks are even more severe in those workplaces where no public scrutiny is possible. Worst still, the workers employed in Alliance factories have no independent way of monitoring how safe they really are at work and must continue risking their safety to make our clothes."

The report points out that the Alliance earlier this year decided to waive all of the deadlines for safety renovations imposed by its own inspectors, or by Accord inspectors, at the time factories were assessed.

James Moriarty, country director for the Alliance, told the International Labor Rights Forum it has adjusted its measurements to reflect the core question of whether a given factory will be substantially safe when the Alliance sunsets in 2018. 

The Alliance did not return a request for comment at the time of going to press.

Click here to view the full report on 'Dangerous Delays on Worker Safety'. 

Last month, the Alliance said it was working on a plan to hand over responsibility for its affiliated garment factories to the country's government in 2018, as it revealed around 63% of remediation work had been completed to date. Meanwhile, the Accord last week said its members are in discussions over whether the group will extend its stay in the country after the 2018 deadline. Local reports have suggested the group might extend its stay for a further three years.

Bangladesh Alliance preparing 2018 transition plan

Bangladesh Accord in talks on post-2018 extension