The Bangladesh Alliance performs independent inspections on the structural, electrical and fire safety of all factories from which its members source

The Bangladesh Alliance performs independent inspections on the structural, electrical and fire safety of all factories from which its members source

With just six months to go before the curtain falls on the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, country director Jim Moriarty tells just-style he is "pretty confident" the group will finish the vast majority of remediation across its affiliated factories in 2018 and says "steady headway" is being made to create a new safety organisation in Bangladesh.

Speaking to just-style this week as the group published its fourth annual report, Moriarty said the Alliance is confident that by next summer the vast majority of the factories are going to be in "very good shape".

"The pace of CAP closures is picking up as more and more factories get near the end of their remediation programme and as we make sure they are in good shape in respect to training. In fact, in the third quarter of this year, we actually did four times as many CAP closures during the first two quarters of the year combined." 

The organisation currently has 658 active factories supplying its member companies, encompassing just shy of 1.4m workers.

Of that 658 factories, Moriarty explains 179 are being remediated under the Bangladesh Accord, which has the lead on those "shared factories". Of the remaining 479 factories, 234 have already achieved their initial remediation programmes, leaving 245 outstanding.

"We remain confident nearly all of our currently active factories will complete remediation before the Alliance sunsets in 2018, with the exception of factories joining the programme or expanding shortly before the Alliance sunsets," the group said in its report.

Other highlights include 85% of all remediation items completed, including 80% of high-priority repairs, while more than 1.48m workers have been trained in basic fire safety and 1.3m have participated in refresher courses. Meanwhile, 26,814 security guards have undergone initial training across 924 factories, and more than 1.35m workers across 941 factories have access to the group's Amader Kotha ('Our Voice') toll-free, confidential worker helpline.

The report comes after nearly four years of the Alliance, which was set up in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers. The group performs independent inspections on the structural, electrical and fire safety of all factories from which its members source. Each factory is then provided with a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) designed to help it address safety issues and achieve compliance with Alliance safety standards.

It also provides technical advice and access to low-cost loans to assist factories with remediation and is due to expire in mid-2018. After this point, it will transition its work to locally-based partners by the end of the year who will continue its factory safety monitoring and worker empowerment initiatives.

The Bangladesh Accord is also set to end at the same time but has since been granted a six-month extension to operate beyond this date, if at that point a new national regulatory body is not yet ready to take over its work, as is widely anticipated. 

Bangladesh Accord and Alliance to end tenures next year

The agreement came just four months after the formation of a new and improved 2018 Accord, which over 20 brands, including Primark, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), Inditex, signed up to.

Bangladesh '2018 Accord' promises new worker protections

Continued safety standards

The Alliance and its members say they are making "steady headway" toward partnering on a new safety organisation in Bangladesh that would be "independent, credible, and operate on a sustainable business model".

Moriarty explains to just-style the group is talking to "a whole bunch of the major players in the garment industry", including the Government of Bangladesh, the International Labour Organization (ILO) - which is working on forming a 'Remediation Coordination Cell' to oversee workplace safety in the RMG sector - and factory owners with the help of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Association (BGMEA).

"What we're talking about is a safety monitoring organisation that would oversee the factories to make sure they continue to meet the safety standards that we, the Government, and the Accord have agreed on.

"The emphasis is no longer going to be on taking a large pool of factories with a lot of problems and trying to remediate them, but will instead be on monitoring factories to make sure they continue to have a very high safety standard going forward."

In terms of the brands, he says there has been a "high level" of interest. "They want to see some investment - they've done a lot of good and they don't want to see it disappear."

Since factories involved in the Alliance initiative will be "significantly safer" than they were in 2013, keeping them safe into the future requires a different arrangement and resource allocation than the current focus, the Alliance says.

It adds the organisation will be charged with monitoring factories' progress in meeting standards in structural, fire, and electrical safety, worker training, and worker empowerment. In addition to maintaining factory safety, the new monitoring group will also incorporate a process to verify that new factories meet the same safety standards as those factories that have completed their Alliance Corrective Action Plans.

"Moving forward, it will be critical that all parties align the various efforts currently underway and work together to maintain a safer garment industry beyond 2018," the group explains.

A culture of safety

Looking to the end of its tenure, the Alliance has outlined a series of goals post-2018 and urges local partners on the ground to "share and commit to a culture of safety" across the Bangladesh garment sector. Its goals include:

  • Leave a legacy of results, best practices, and worker safety innovations that are incorporated across safety efforts going forward;
  • Align key stakeholders in Bangladesh whose support and participation is critical to sustaining safety progress moving forward;
  • Create a sustainable future model that builds local capacity, allocates responsibilities and optimizes leverage to drive and expand the culture of safety;
  • Continue to build on the success achieved through the five-year Alliance initiative while expanding impact beyond Alliance factories;
  • Maintain independence, credibility, and transparency elements that reinforce the Alliance's results.

Reflecting on the past four years, Moriarty says the biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to do something that had never been done before, without a "blueprint".

"It's been a process of learning, [finding out] what works best, how we can help the owners, how we can define processes so that we actually have good visibility into how remediation is progressing, [and] constantly tweaking our worker training to be more effective," he says. "It's been a long exercise for everybody concerned. There were a lot of constraints initially in Bangladesh, we worked with the owners, and with the government to overcome those, but the whole thing has been trying to create something that has never been done before and that's been the real challenge."

With its final months ahead, the Alliance says its commitment to Bangladesh is as strong as ever. "We firmly believe that if civil society, factory owners, brands, and the government continue to work together to advance a shared commitment to factory safety, high standards of worker safety will be the rule, and not the exception, in Bangladesh."