Alliance discards statement of rights groups, says it continues to improve safety in Bangladesh garment industry

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Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety, an organization of North American fashion brands and buyers, has rejected the report of the four global workers’ rights groups on safety improvement assessment in Bangladesh’s garment sector and marked their report as ‘misrepresented and oversimplified’.

Alliance is a group of 28 major global retailers formed in 2014 to develop and launch the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative, a binding, five-year undertaking with the aim of improving safety in Bangladeshi ready-made garment (RMG) factories after the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse  that killed more than 1100 workers and injured many.

Alliance mentions that 'Safety in workplace is a fundamental human rights' (Picture taken from Alliance Annual Report 2016)
Figure: Alliance mentions that ‘Safety in workplace is a fundamental human rights’ (Picture taken from Alliance Annual Report 2016)

“There is no doubt that the Alliance has had a transformative impact in strengthening the structural integrity of Bangladeshi factories where millions of women and men make a living each day,” said Ellen O’Kane Tauscher, independent chair of the board of the Alliance. Alliance has proven its strong commitment to improving workplace safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry through concrete actions and results, she said.

On Monday, 21 November International Labor Rights Forum, Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign and Maquila Solidarity Network in an analysis titled ‘Dangerous Delays on Worker Safety’ criticized ‘considerable delays’ in repairing safety defects in factories supplying member companies of the Alliance. It claimed that Alliance overstated progress in Bangladesh’s garment sector, keeping its workers’ lives at risk.

Those workers’ rights groups said, Walmart, Gap, VF, Target and Hudson’s Bay have failed to address deadly hazards in many factories, but Bangladesh alliance downplays the problem with rosy status reports, on the other hand, Alliance overstates progress, saying many of the factories listed as on track on the Alliance website still face major safety hazards.

On the issue Ellen O’Kane Tauscher said, “We project that our remediation work will be largely completed by 2018—as originally planned. We continue to stress that remediation is not an end point, but a continuing journey. Factories and other key stakeholders must take up the charge to continue the culture of safety well beyond 2018”.

Alliance alleged that the right groups in several areas of the report “misrepresented and oversimplified” the complexities of the Alliance and the Accord efforts. “It is important to note that the factories highlighted in the report are those producing products for both Alliance and Accord brands,” it added.

Alliance said, their analysis of factory remediation progress reflects the conclusions of qualified and trained engineers who are working diligently with factories to ensure they have proper fire safety equipment, conduct inspections and verify progress. These inspections are rigorous, and to date, they have suspended 101 factories from the Alliance list for failing to make sufficient progress on remediation—a considerably higher number than factories suspended by either the National Action Plan or the Accord.

Alliance said, “Despite the picture painted by this report, we share an open and on-going relationship with the Accord and work closely with them to remediate factories. We meet on a monthly basis with Accord engineers and leadership to review any and all concerns in shared factories. In fact, the Accord has never raised any of the issues contained in this report. While some may seek to set up a false sense of competition between our two organizations, we continue to work closely together on the ground to advance factory safety on behalf of millions of garment workers in Bangladesh.”

Ellen O’Kane Tauscher called the Alliance, the Accord and the Government of Bangladesh, as well as NGO and advocacy stakeholders to work together to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi workers.

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