The LABS initiative is designed to protect workers from structural, fire, and electrical safety risks in apparel and footwear producing factories

The LABS initiative is designed to protect workers from structural, fire, and electrical safety risks in apparel and footwear producing factories

Global brands and retailers including Walmart, Bestseller, Gap Inc, Target, PVH Corp and VF Corp are participating in a new initiative that has been launched to promote safer working at apparel and footwear factories in India and Vietnam.

The Life and Building Safety (LABS) initiative is designed to protect workers from structural, fire, and electrical safety risks in apparel and footwear producing factories, and will operate in all major industrial hubs in each of the two countries, covering both small, medium, and large enterprises.

Between them, the participating brands source from hundreds of factories employing around 163,400 workers in Vietnam, and about 125,000 workers in India.

Leading the programme is IDH, the Netherlands-based Sustainable Trade Initiative, which says the idea came after it was approached by brands to leverage learnings from Bangladesh and replicate them in other key apparel sourcing countries. 

Engaging with local stakeholders such as industry associations, CSOs, governments, and institutes to create better safety policies and provisions, it says the LABS standard and methodology are based on international best practices and codes, such as the International Building Code and the National Building Code of India.

Under LABS, in addition to applicable country laws, factories commit to adhering to a harmonised, country-level standard around structural, fire, and electrical safety.

The LABS initiative was launched in Vietnam last week and will be rolled out in India on 28 August. IDH will support the overall facilitation of LABS and development of operational set up in the two countries.

"The tragic events at apparel factories in the last few years have brought to fore the pressing need to address life and building safety in the industry," explains LABS spokesperson Pramit Chanda.

"Learning from such events, the Life and Building Safety (LABS) Initiative was established. Aimed at improving worker safety in the apparel and footwear industries, LABS effectively identifies and mitigates the potential risks related to fire, electrical, and structural building safety and evacuation. LABS is a coherent and consistent worker-safety programme to assess factories and provide a framework for monitoring, mitigation and remediation."

LABS wants to set a benchmark safety standard against which apparel and footwear factories are assessed. The LABS assessment is not a code-compliance check, but instead defines a required level of safety based on international best practices, considering the local context. All technical standards consist of an interrelated set of measures which, taken together, are assumed to provide an acceptable level of safety in a building.

But the initiative has come under fire from several associations.

Speaking to just-style, a spokesperson for the Bangladesh Accord explained it was not "formally consulted in the process of establishing the LABS initiative" and that key elements of the Accord model such as the equal decision-making between brands and unions (bi-partite governance) are missing.

In response to the criticisms, an IDH spokesperson told just-style it had had discussions with the Accord, staff and brands to exchange insights.

"In addition, international expert engineering firms that helped create and roll-out the Accord inspection mechanism have conducted this work as well for the development of the LABS methodology. Like the Bangladesh Accord, the programme sees to it that factories are inspected by qualified experts based on international standards for structural, electrical, and fire safety, and that follow-up is given to these inspections by the creation and monitoring of corrective action plans. Factories will also be provided with safety training and workers can raise concerns directly through the LABS Helpline. LABS staff tracks and supports these activities."

The spokesperson added that in addition, LABS is rolling out a worker helpline to enable workers to speak out on safety concerns directly.