One year ago, Bangladesh suffered one of the deadliest garment factory tragedies in history when the Rana Plaza building collapsed. In the weeks following, the magnitude of the disaster and its impact on victims and their families elevated a global conversation about one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time: protecting worker safety.
Everyone connected to Rana Plaza and the Bangladesh garment industry—in government, business, trade, labor and civil society—knew that this was a critical moment to mobilize the resources necessary to create change. The only appropriate response was to take collective action.
One year later, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety—a legally binding initiative of 26 primarily North American companies—has begun to achieve real progress to improve worker safety. For the first time, international standards have been established for fire and structural safety in Bangladesh. Using these standards, we have completed hundreds of factory inspections leading to the installation of fire suppression equipment, hundreds of fire doors and improved structural integrity. Worker empowerment initiatives—including safety trainings, a new safety training curriculum for factory managers and workers, and a confidential helpline through which workers can anonymously report concerns—are underway. Our work is being led and implemented locally by Bangladeshis in close collaboration with the government, labor, and the private sector.
But more needs to be done. The Alliance will continue to be a driving force for creating a safer garment industry for all factory workers. We will ensure that the factories our members source from lead the way by demonstrating best practices in inspections, remediation, worker training and empowerment. Inspection findings will be published to our website in the weeks and months ahead.
Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry should be a source of national pride. It is a vital source of economic security and upward mobility for millions of Bangladeshis. It employs 3.5 million people—more than 80 percent of whom are women—and is a critical player in the global supply chain that drives economies all over the world.
But its measure of success must be its ability to provide safe working conditions and to protect the livelihoods of workers and their families, while also serving as a pillar of the Bangladesh economy.
Anything less is unacceptable.
We remain steadfastly committed to getting the job done right. Bangladeshi leaders in government, industry, trade and labor will drive change and we will support them alongside any organization that brings the same determination to succeed that we do. We must continue uniting our resources, capacity, insight and dedication to ensuring that we do not miss this key moment to forever change the Bangladesh garment industry and the lives of its workers for the better.
The Honorable Ellen Tauscher
Chairman, Alliance Board