Remarks from Ambassador Jim Moriarty, Alliance Executive Director, at Quarter One Press Conference
DHAKA, Bangladesh – Today, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance) held its Q1 press conference to announce progress updates on factory remediation and safety training at hundreds of ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh. The following are excerpts from remarks made by Ambassador Jim Moriarty, executive director of the Alliance.
“I am pleased to note that the Alliance continues to achieve unprecedented progress in our efforts to improve safety within the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh. Our factory remediation work is progressing at a rapid pace, and we remain on track to meet our stated commitments by the end of the year.
“As of today, 322 Alliance-affiliated factories have completed all material components in their corrective action plans and are considered substantially remediated. Eighty-eight percent of factory remediation is complete across all active factories, including 84 percent of items most critical to life safety.
“To put this in context, here are a few examples of ways factories are safer today than they were five years ago:
- All told, 290 Alliance factories have required structural retrofitting. Of those, 264 factories—or 91 percent—have fully completed retrofitting, meaning that their foundations, columns and beams are now able to meet the imposed load demands required of an industrial building.
- Similarly, 141 factories have needed to install sprinkler systems. Of these, 118 factories—or 84 percent—have completed installation. These systems extend the time available for people to escape from fires, and they can also extinguish fires in the very early stages of combustion, reducing risk for workers and firefighters alike.
- Nearly all factories have now upgraded their outdated electrical systems, and nearly all have installed fire doors that provide an escape route for workers and help stop a fire from spreading.
“All of these advancements aren’t just good for the safety and well-being of workers. They are good for business. Upgraded factories can help keep Bangladesh on the map globally as a trusted supplier, and will protect against accidents that can destroy lives, property and products, and exact a huge human and financial toll.
“But truly achieving a sea change in factory safety is about more than remediating factories. We have focused intently on training workers and equipping them with the tools to empower themselves in the workplace.
“First, we continue to operate our confidential, 24-hour Helpline, Amader Kotha, which today is available to more than 1.4 million workers across nearly 1,000 factories.
“The first worker resource of its kind in Bangladesh, the Alliance Helpline has received more than 200,000 calls since its inception—an average of about 5,200 calls per month in 2017—demonstrating its uptake and value among workers. Just last month, the Helpline received 29 calls from workers reporting a fire inside a furniture factory not affiliated with the Alliance—showing how word of the Helpline as a resource has spread to workers throughout Bangladesh and beyond the RMG industry.
“Of these calls, over the last 12 months, an average of 30 calls per month—just 0.6 percent of all calls—have been related to urgent safety issues within factories, and this number often reflects calls from multiple workers about the same issue. Beyond issues of factory safety, workers use the Helpline to reach out about issues ranging from fires in their communities to issues with factory management. The vast majority of calls we receive are resolved within 48 hours of the call being placed.
“Next, our Fire Safety Training—again, the only one of its kind in Bangladesh— has also been a tremendously important asset for the Alliance factory workforce. To date, we have trained more than 1.5 million workers to identify potential safety dangers in their factories and to protect themselves in the event of an emergency. Trainings are mandatory for factories to achieve CAP closure, and to date, more than 1,000 factories have implemented both our basic training and a refresher training.
“Third, we have trained more than 27,000 security guards in the skills necessary to protect life, rather than property, in the case of an emergency. We have also trained managers in 17 security guard companies in Bangladesh that provide security services within and beyond the RMG industry.
“Fourth, we have introduced interactive, half-day facilitated training sessions for factory managers, which are designed to help them lead their factories with safety as essential to their business model, rather than simply a tacked-on requirement of doing business with the Alliance.
“We know that in an industry that combines fabric and heavy machinery, there will always be the risk of fire. But these trainings are making a difference in preventing such incidents through a greater awareness of safety and managers using safer working practices.
“During 39 small fire incidents in Alliance factories last year, managers, security guards and workers reacted and evacuated quickly in accordance with the Alliance training, contacted the fire brigade and the Alliance Helpline, and resulted in no loss of life, no injuries, and minimal physical factory damage.
“Finally, we have worked with factories to support the establishment of democratically elected Worker Safety Committees in 172 factories. These committees give workers a seat at the table in monitoring safety compliance within their workplaces.
“We are extremely proud of the progress we have made in just five short years. And with all of the investments we have made in the training and empowerment of the workers themselves, factory remediation remains on schedule. We could not have done this without our partners—including our member brands, factory owners, and our partners on the ground like the BGMEA and the ILO.
“If these gains are going to be sustained over the long-term, however, they must be owned and led locally, from within Bangladesh. The government and all other parties involved must commit themselves to making safety the rule, not the exception, in factories throughout the country.
“As we have announced previously, the Alliance will transition our operations to a safety monitoring organization managed by credible, trusted, local partners by the end of this year, with the continued values of transparency, objectivity and oversight. This entity will continue to oversee factory inspections, monitoring, and our highly successful Helpline and training programs.
“The reason we are able to transition? Nearly 90 percent of our remediation is complete, and our worker empowerment initiatives have been implemented and fully embraced throughout our entire factory workforce.
“Our job now is to transfer our knowledge, best practices and worker safety innovations to credible partners who can own and continue this work locally, which is the only way it can truly be sustained over the long term.
“Make no mistake about it: Alliance member brands are committed to safety. The new safety monitoring organization, funded largely by member brands, will continue to require that factories meet the high safety standards implemented by the Alliance.
“We are in conversations with the Government of Bangladesh, the BGMEA, the ILO, and other stakeholders on the exact details of this transition, and we expect to announce details in the coming weeks.”