The Battle for a Safer Bangladesh Goes On
In the year since the devastating factory collapse in Bangladesh killed more than 1,100 workers, efforts have been continuing to improve safety in the country’s garment industry. Although progress has undoubtedly been made, two recent reports highlight how divisions within and among some major brands may be hampering efforts to prevent another catastrophic collapse or fire.
The first from The New York Times reports on how western retailers and apparel brands began a major push to inspect factories in Bangladesh following last year’s tragic incidents in the country. While their efforts have won praise in some quarters, others feel that the formation of two disparate groups may be diluting the overall impact.
The Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety, which has a dominance of European brands amongst its more than 150 members, has inspected some 300 factories to date with a goal to inspect all of its 1,500 factories by late October 2014. Meanwhile the other group, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which is comprised of 26 U.S. and Canadian brands, has completed 400 inspections out of a total of 630 of its members factories and expects to complete all of its inspections by July.
Inspectors from both groups have found serious problems in many factories, including structural weaknesses and potential fire hazards. The European-dominated accord’s inspections have so far resulted in four factories being closed temporarily for fear of collapse with four more under close government officials’ scrutiny. Despite having carried out more inspections, the alliance has had only one factory closed, prompting questions about the thoroughness of its inspectors from some accord members.
The alliance claims it is working closely with local unions and workers to improve working conditions, and also has asked the Bangladeshi authorities to close four more factories following inspections. Some alliance members have criticized the accord for failing to make a provision for wages for workers who are laid off after the temporary closure of a factory. There also have been some differences of opinion over the process for when a factory is closed and whether inspection reports should be made public.
Jeff is executive director of the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA). Prior to that, he was responsible for developing safe and compliant brand merchandise for Michelin. He has worked with brands in publishing, consumer products, broadcasting and film for over 30 years. Follow Jeff on Twitter, and QCA on Facebook.