An alliance of 17 North American retailers has been formed to improve factory safety conditions for workers in Bangladesh. The new initiative aimed at increasing factory and worker safety calls for 100 percent inspections of all member factories within the first year, common safety standards to be developed within the next three months; inspections results that are transparently shared; and that all alliance factories actively support the democratic election and successful operation of Worker Participation Committees (WPC) at each factory.
The initiative tackles the most pressing challenges identified within the country’s rapidly expanded garment manufacturing industry, with specific and measurable actions, including:
Factory Inspections and Safety Commitment: Within one year, 100 percent of all factories that conduct work with an alliance member will be inspected. Members have agreed to work only with factories that ensure a safe working environment, and as a result, all have committed to refusing to source from any factory the member determines is unsafe.
Establishing Common Safety Standards for Factories: To work with “one voice,” common safety standards will be developed and in place by October of this year. Members of the alliance will share inspection results, following the adoption of the Alliance Fire and Building Safety Standards. Inspection results will be shared anonymously through an independent organization, the Fair Factories Clearinghouse, so that factories with dangerous safety conditions are immediately identified; these findings are transparently communicated to factory owners, workers and the government; and problems quickly addressed.
Worker Training: Ensures ongoing, mandatory training and education for factory workers and managers, and that all alliance factories actively support the democratic election and successful operation of Worker Participation Committees at each factory. These committees provide a forum for workers to raise safety and workplace concerns without fear of retaliation.
Worker Voice: To further empower workers, an anonymous worker hotline will be established by November of this year that will use mobile technology and be administered by a third party.
Oversight of Alliance: To govern the alliance and ensure the retailer members follow through on their commitments, a nine-member Board of Directors has been established. The makeup of the board provides an independent level of review, with four retailers, four stakeholders who provide specific expertise, and an independent board chair. The chair is expected to be named within the next few weeks.
Semi-annual Progress Reports: To ensure accountability and given the specific deadlines put forward by the alliance, the Board of Directors will make public semi-annual progress reports of the alliance programs against the objectives of the initiative. In addition, the alliance has asked Senators Mitchell and Snowe to provide independent verification of the program’s effectiveness over at least the first two years.
Program Funding: Each member of the alliance contributes a specific amount to support the initiative. The amount is based upon the amount of production each company has in the country, with companies with the higher levels of production paying $1 million a year for five years. Currently, the alliance safety fund is $42 million and growing, and the alliance will designate 10 percent of the fund to assist workers temporarily displaced by factory improvements or in the event of a factory closure for safety reasons. The funds also will support the selected non-governmental organization (NGO) that will implement components of the program. The NGO will be on the ground in Bangladesh and will be selected within the next 30 days.
Supporting Improvements at Factories: Collectively, individual retailers have committed over $100 million in funding for low-interest loans and affordable access to capital in order to ensure repairs at factories they work with are made in a timely manner.
Increased Involvement with the Bangladeshi Government: Using the collective power of the industry, the alliance is also committed to forging a stronger partnership with the Bangladeshi government to ensure lasting infrastructure and industry improvements are realized in order for the industry to continue to thrive. The alliance will work with the government of Bangladesh and its industry groups, worker rights organizations and others who support safer factory working conditions to coordinate the initiative’s activities with the National Tripartite Plan of Action (NAP) on Fire Safety for the RMG Sector in Bangladesh.
Members of the alliance include; Canadian Tire Corporation, Limited; Carter’s Inc.; The Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc.; Gap Inc.; Hudson’s Bay Company; IFG Corp.; J.C. Penney Company Inc.; The Jones Group Inc.; Kohl’s Department Stores; L. L. Bean Inc.; Macy’s; Nordstrom Inc.; Public Clothing Company; Sears Holdings Corporation; Target Corporation; VF Corporation; and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Supporting associations include: American Apparel & Footwear Association, Canadian Apparel Federation, National Retail Federation, Retail Council of Canada, Retail Industry Leaders Association, and United States Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. In addition, Li & Fung, a major Hong Kong-based sourcing company which does business with many members of the alliance, will serve in an advisory capacity. More members of the alliance are expected to be added in the days and weeks ahead.