The North American Bangladesh Worker Safety Working Group, a collaboration of five U.S. and Canadian apparel and retail trade associations, Wednesday reinforced its commitment to improving worker safety in Bangladesh and outlined a broad set of proposals to further that goal.
The "Safer Factories Initiative" includes short, medium, and long-term strategic goals for moving forward with meaningful improvements to worker safety in Bangladesh. Worker safety is a top priority for the U.S. apparel and retail industries. Creating a safe work environment is essential to this effort.
The recent accidents at apparel production facilities in Bangladesh are heartbreaking and have strengthened our resolve to find practicable and sustainable solutions to ensure the safety of garment production facilities and workers in Bangladesh and the viability of the Bangladesh garment industry as a sustainable manufacturer and supplier to markets around the world.
The North American Bangladesh Worker Safety Working Group shares IndustriALL's goal to improve worker safety in Bangladesh and to making tangible progress on the ground. The Safer Factories Initiative, built on the extensive work already being conducted on the ground by brands and retailers today, goes an important step further. The Safer Factories Initiative details how the goal of improving worker safety in Bangladesh cannot only be done now, but can be sustained into the future.
Continued Commitment to Improving Worker Safety
In recent years, North American retailers and brands have dedicated significant resources to improve worker safety in Bangladesh. These efforts focus on improving worker safety today by educating and empowering workers, from implementing nationwide education campaigns and worker training to establishing worker hotlines. Retailers and brands recognize that a comprehensive worker safety regime must be based on continuous improvement and collaborative effort among all stakeholders.
Today, many U.S. and Canadian brands and retailers require announced and unannounced factory visits, audits, fire drills, fire prevention training, and safety inspections. Whether conducted directly by the brand or retailer or through a verified third party firm, workplace inspections and training continue to be two of many effective mechanisms to improve worker safety. The results of these inspections are used to generate remediation plans to address safety issues that arise out of the inspection.
Brands and retailers have announced that they are expanding and enhancing these programs in light of the recent tragic events in Bangladesh. Many U.S. and Canadian retailers and brands have already created zero tolerance policies with factories, established improved safety training for workers and management, and enhanced audit programs to include fire and building safety.
A Strong Action Plan Driven by Collaboration
The Safer Factories Initiative, as highlighted below, is a strong and sustainable action plan to improve worker safety in Bangladesh now and into the future.
Collaboration is an essential component of efforts to improve worker safety in Bangladesh. The joint effort of all stakeholders, including the Bangladesh government, factory owners, workers, buyers in North America and Europe, members of civil society, and organized labor, are essential to identify viable solutions and implement a successful and sustainable plan of corrective action, as described in the Safer Factories Initiative.
Additionally, the Safer Factories Initiative would cover all apparel factories in Bangladesh and proposes significant training programs for electricians and engineers to ensure proper building safety standards are met.
Given the global nature of the apparel and retail industry, applying a legal standard is a very complex proposition. The Safer Factories Initiative understands that flexibility is required to address a broad array of worker safety issues and enables brands and retailers to respond swiftly and effectively to an ever-changing environment.
Many U.S. and Canadian brands and retailers recognize that worker safety and compliance is based on continuous improvement to keep up with emerging safety concerns. With that in mind, we continue to pursue a sustainable industry-wide solution to improve worker safety. The North American Bangladesh Worker Safety Working Group has been working together for several months on a broader proposal to improve worker safety in Bangladesh that more effectively recognizes and addresses the myriad and complex issues underlying the factory safety issue in Bangladesh.
Working Group Objectives
As noted previously, many companies have invested significant resources in recognition of the pivotal role education and training plays in advancing worker safety. As part of the short-term objectives of the Safer Factories Initiative, the industry will build on this work to re-double efforts to educate workers and factory management about fire prevention and workplace safety. The initiative will specifically empower workers to be cognizant of workplace safety concerns and equip workers to respond swiftly and appropriately to safety concerns. In order to maximize the impact of this initiative, buyers will develop mechanisms to share information on trainings to ensure that the training can reach the most number of workers and factories possible.
Despite the best efforts of brands and retailers who routinely audit factories for a variety of compliance needs, and more recent efforts by many companies to conduct assessment focused on building and fire safety, much more work remains to be done. Further, efforts to conduct these assessments have been hampered by lack of a clear industry standard for fire and building safety. The Safer Factories Initiative calls for buyers to work in conjunction with the Bangladeshi government, Bangladeshi factory owners, and Bangladeshi workers to develop and implement an industry standard on fire and building safety and conduct assessments of all factories based on those standards. These goals are key components of the Tri-Partite National Action Plan between the government, owners, and workers in Bangladesh that was brokered by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in March 2013. As such, close coordination with all stakeholders is essential.
In order to achieve sustainable improvements to worker safety in Bangladesh, certain long-term, sustainable strategies are necessary to address the evolving safety needs of workers in Bangladesh, including mechanisms to establish "Fire and Building Safety Compliant" factories, qualified training programs, and the strictest enforcement of building and safety codes. The initiative also sets in motion the creation of a viable, equitable, and sustainable funding mechanism devoted to training, upgrades of existing factory structures, and ensuring the safety of new construction.
About the Working Group
Formed in January 2013, the North American Bangladesh Worker Safety Working Group is comprised of the five leading apparel and retail trade associations in the United States and Canada, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), Canadian Apparel Federation (CAF), National Retail Federation (NRF), Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), United States Association of Importers of Textile and Apparel (USA-ITA).