Seventeen retailers have banded together to form a work safety initiative in Bangladesh, demanding factory inspections, the development of common safety standards and the election of worker representatives.
Former U.S. senators George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe, representing the Bipartisan Policy Center, helped facilitate the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative, which was created in five weeks. The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety has been created to support the initiative.
Each member of the alliance will provide funding for the changes based on the amount of production the company has in Bangladesh. The largest companies will pay $1 million annually for five years.
The move is a direct reaction to two recent incidents in the area. On April 24, a Bangladeshi garment factory collapse that killed 1,000 workers. A factory fire elsewhere in the region killed 112 people in November. After the April incident, government regulators in Bangladesh shut down or temporarily closed more than 20 factories and pledged to inspect all factories in the area. In May, the U.S. Department of Labor released a $2.5 million grant to fund safety training at the factories.
In June, the United States cut off trade benefits for Bangladesh because the government was not taking steps toward recognizing workers’ rights.
The initiative lays out some bold new guidelines moving forward. As far as factory inspections and a safety commitment, 100 percent of factories that do business with alliance members must be inspected and committed to a safe working environment. Common safety standards, the group said, will need to be in place by October, and members will check up on the safety record of individual factories by sharing inspection reports. Mandatory education and training of workers is a must, and to ensure workers’ complaints are properly heard, the alliance will establish an anonymous hotline by November. Alliance members are also focused on creating a stronger bond with the Bangladesh government.
“We believe the partnership and collaboration are critical to our success,” chief executive officers of the alliance members said in a joint statement. “We are committed to working with other global brands in order to achieve swift change. We’ll use the power of the newly created alliance to find other sources of funding to support additional infrastructure improvement, including working closely with government agencies around the world.”
A nine-member board will oversee the alliance and make sure members are following through on their promises. Mitchell and Snowe will stay on for at least the first two years to independently assess the alliance’s effectiveness. To ensure deadlines are met and progress is being made, the board will compile semi-annual progress reports.
“We sought and received input from a wide range of interested parties, including, among others, the governments of Bangladesh and the United States, fire and safety experts, and worker representatives,” Mitchell said in a statement. “The discussions were detailed and extensive. While there were many differences, in interests and on issues, the dominant common theme was the importance, indeed the necessity, of developing and implementing a meaningful plan of action to dramatically improve worker safety in the garment industry in Bangladesh.” - Jon Ross