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North American Alliance Bids for Transparency in Efforts to Improve Bangladesh Factories

Posted by Sheila Shayon on October 23, 2013 07:17 PM

More than half of the 620 Bangladesh garment factories contracted by 23 North American retailers and apparel makers have been inspected for fire and building safety, according to a report from the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

Since the April collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex that killed more than 1,100 garment workers and a November 2012 fire at the Tazreen factory that killed 112, close attention has been paid to Bangladesh's booming garment industry—but it's still not enough. Earlier this month, another factory fire killed nearly a dozen people—a building that was reportedly left out of inspections by both the Alliance and European-based Accord on Fire and Building Safety.  

In a bid to be more transparent amid criticism over its non-binding agreement, the Alliance has released a full list of all of its contracted factories that includes names and addresses, as well as number of workers and building composition. The list also indicates which factories are utilized by Accord members.

Gap, VF Corp and Walmart are among members of the North American-based consortium that have pledged to inspect all of the Bangladesh factories from which they source goods within one year, with those that fail requirements facing another inspection. About half of the factories that do business with members of the Alliance also manufacture garments for the separate European-led Accord group, which counts 100 companies as of this month including Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, H&M, and Inditex SA, which are conducting their own inspections.

"We recognize the urgent need to continue moving quickly to improve safety conditions because the garment workers of Bangladesh expect us to deliver on our promises," said Jeffrey Krilla, Alliance President. "As our membership grows in number and global reach, we will continue working quickly and diligently on our next series of goals, and welcome collaboration with other interested parties in Bangladesh and around the globe to achieve results."  

The Alliance also detailed its efforts to add two experts to its board, including a civil engineer and a fire protection engineer to help oversee inspections. The group also adopted its own Fire Safety and Structural Integrity standards to which all inspections will be held. 

The US has taken a strong stance on the Bangladesh incidents, downgrading the countries trade privileges and continuously heeding warnings to factory owners. Ellen Tauscher, former California congresswoman and chair of the Alliance group's board of directors, maintains that no factory will see US business if they "remain in the shadows and don't adhere to the kinds of standards that are going to create a safe workplace."

In a separate move, the International Labor Organization announced a $24.2 million program to support the approximately 2,500 factories not covered by either retailer’s safety groups—those that are the highest-risk factories in the country. The horrific industrial disasters are "symbols of what is wrong in the ready-made garment sector," said Gerben Sjoerd de Jong, ambassador of the Netherlands in Bangladesh. "Now Bangladesh, supported by the international community, has the chance to get it right."

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