Washington, D.C. —Today, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance) provided an update on its progress and challenges in the first quarter of 2016, including remediation, factory suspensions, and first-of-their-kind worker empowerment initiatives like the worker helpline and a pilot program for factory safety committees. Below are the remarks of Ambassador James Moriarty, Executive Director, and Ian Spaulding, Senior Advisor. Additional information, including the Alliance’s mid-year data, can be found in our 2016 Mid-Year Report (Download English/Bangla)
Remarks of Ambassador James Moriarty, Executive Director of the Alliance
Good morning, and thank you all for joining us today for an update on where we stand at the end of the first quarter of 2016. As things continue to move forward, we will be holding more regular calls like this to provide updates on our progress.
The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety is now at the halfway point of our five-year initiative to empower and protect the millions of workers in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry. We are proud of what we have been able to accomplish, and we can see that our initiatives are working.
In fact, Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence reports that fires in Bangladesh garment factories have dropped by more than 90 percent in recent years—from 250 in 2012 to just 30 in 2015—and nobody died in any of those incidences in 2015.
And the independent National Fire Prevention Association and the University of Maryland recently issued a joint report highlighting our success in improving worker safety, and provided additional recommendations to continue that success—recommendations that we are already in the process of implementing.
We are incredibly proud of what the Alliance has been able to accomplish in the last two-and-a-half years, and we continue to be motivated by the response we’re seeing and hearing on the ground. Factory workers tell us they feel safer, and owners tell us they have greater confidence in the safety and management of their facilities.
The outbreak of several Bangladesh factory fires earlier this year was concerning—and to us underscores the need for factories to quickly complete the most critical remediation efforts. That said, we were encouraged by the response of workers and security guards, who safely handled those fires and evacuations, and prevented the loss of any life.
There is still much to do to meet our five-year goals, but we’ve come a long way toward improving workplace safety in factories and will continue to work with our partners during the next two-and-a-half years to ensure that safe workplaces in the Bangladesh RMG industry become the rule, not the exception.
As part of the effort to ensure the safety of all workers in our factories, the Alliance has a zero-tolerance policy for factories that fail to make progress in addressing identified safety concerns. During the first quarter, the number of factories we have suspended more than tripled—from 24 factories in December to 77 today—and we expect to see this trend continue as we suspend factories that fail to make adequate progress. Factories that don’t make progress in addressing safety concerns are factories that stand at a greater risk of accidents, accidents that could cause injury or even death.
But this is about more than suspending factories that aren’t making progress—it’s about improving the hundreds of factories with which we will continue to do business. This year, we are redoubling our efforts to make sure factories prioritize progress on the issues that are most critical to life safety, which are often the most difficult and time consuming to remediate.
We are also committed to transparency in our work. We recently began a new policy of issuing public notifications on our website within seven days of the suspension of any Alliance factory.
As always, Bangladesh’s millions of ready-made garment workers will remain at the heart of the Alliance and all that we do.
I’ll now turn to my colleague Ian Spaulding, senior advisor to the Alliance, to provide an update on our remediation and worker empowerment programs.
Remarks of Ian Spaulding, Senior Advisor to the Alliance
Thank you. Let me echo a little about what Ambassador Moriarty said. Nearly three years after the Rana Plaza collapse, we have made considerable progress in our efforts to protect workers:
- Specifically, 24 factories have been fully remediated, and we anticipate that another six factories will reach substantial closure on their Corrective Action Plans by the end of the month.
- To date, we have also verified that more than 49% of all required repairs have been completed. That means that out of 48,500 issues identified during our inspections, more than 23,000 have been verified as being addressed.
Importantly, nearly half of our factories have fewer than five high-priority safety risks left to address. So working with these factories to prioritize issues are most likely to impact life safety and is our top priority moving forward.
Meanwhile, our worker training and empowerment initiatives continue to generate transformative impact in the lives of workers.
- We’ve provided fire safety training to more than 1.2 million workers. This is the largest training that we’re aware of. We’ve now also provided refresher trainings to 420,000 workers, and we’ve trained 20,000 security guards in the skills necessary to lead evacuations—and to prioritize the protection of life, not property—in the case of emergency.
- Our worker helpline—which allows workers to anonymously report safety and other concerns confidentially and without fear of retribution—is now available to more than 866,000 workers in nearly 650 factories.
- Thus far, the helpline has received more than 45,000 calls from both the Alliance and non-Alliance factories, and we continue to receive an average of 250 calls per day.
- We’ve also provided financial compensation to more than 6,500 workers who have been displaced by factory remediation, accommodating 100 percent of factory owners who have asked for assistance.
- And, we are now finalizing the launch of democratically elected Safety Committees in 14 factories. Following the completion of this pilot, we expect to begin rapid implementation of the program in more than 250 factories by the end of this year; this will be the first program of its kind in the entire RMG sector globally.
Creating a safer Bangladesh garment industry requires significant time and resources, and we’ve approached all aspects of our work with a long-term view in how it can be sustained beyond 2018.
In addition to our ongoing work with remediation and worker empowerment, we’re also engaging our partners to make sure all new factories that are built meet international safety standards, to increase the capacity of local engineers and engineering firms, and to help prepare Bangladesh government and the various agencies to take this work forward in the months and years ahead.