November 11, 2016
After the devastating consequences of the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 killing 1,134 people, two organizations emerged for inspecting and auditing safety in workplaces. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created with independent and transparent reports of safety inspections and progress. The Accord’s Corrective Action Plans (CAPS) are detailed factory-level spreadsheets documenting inspection results, the required repairs and renovations, designated deadlines for each identified remediation item, and progress status on each item. The Accord CAPS are available at http://accord.fairfactories.org/ffcweb/Web/ManageSuppliers/InspectionReportsEnglish.aspx. It also in includes a critical voice for labor within the factories on health and safety issues. The other organization, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, established by global retailers including Gap, Target and Walmart, does not make the inspection reports public and lacks the free selection of workers for their representatives in factory health and safety committees. In spite of the Alliance’s lack of transparency, where side-by-side comparison is possible, a new study reports that the Alliance is giving passing grades to factories that have failed to implement critical safety repairs.
In 2013, when Gap, Target, Walmart, and 23 other North American companies refused to join with unions in a legally-binding agreement to improve workplace safety in Bangladesh, they announced their own corporate-controlled alternative. The report “Dangerous Delays on Worker Safety,” which was researched and written by the International Labor Relations Forum, the Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign, and Maquila Solidarity Network, is the first independent investigation into the Alliance’s track record. It exposes a startling disconnect between the Alliance rating system and the actual conditions in the factories. Of 107 factories examined that are labelled by the Alliance as “On Track,” the report finds that:
These statistics, if accurate, are terrifying, and they have real world consequences. The report’s analysis alleges that there are 120,000 garment workers employed in the 62 factories that produce items for Walmart that do not have fully viable fire exits.
The Guardian has an excellent article on the report found here: Retail group approves Bangladesh factories as safety concerns persist, report finds.
If this is true, critical changes must happen within the Alliance as they have been publicly overstating progress and approving factories despite safety concerns. Right now, 29 companies are members of the Alliance: Ariela and Associates International LLC; Bon Worth; Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited; Carter’s Inc.; The Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc.; Costco Wholesale Corporation; Fruit of the Loom, Inc.; Gap Inc.; Giant Tiger; Hudson’s Bay Company; IFG Corp.; Intradeco Apparel; J.C. Penney Company Inc.; Jordache Enterprises, Inc.; The Just Group; Kate Spade & Company; Kohl’s Department Stores; L. L. Bean Inc.; M. Hidary & Company Inc.; Macy’s; Nine West Holdings, Inc.; Nordstrom Inc.; Public Clothing Company; Sears Holdings Corporation; Target Corporation; VF Corporation; and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.; YM Inc.
As consumers, as people of faith, we share the concern with which the report concludes: “The Alliance’s approach to reporting safety progress legitimately raises the question whether the Alliance is prioritizing the protection of its member brands’ reputations over the protection of workers.”
Update: the Honorable Ellen O’Kane Tauscher, independent chair of the Board of The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), has issued a statement in response to the report found here in the Alliance website: http://www.bangladeshworkersafety.org/en/410-alliance-continues-to-improve-safety-in-bangladesh-garment-industry