Protecting & Empowering Bangladesh Garment Workers
by Michelle Banks, Gap Inc. EVP and General Counsel
February 26, 2015
Change is sweeping across the Bangladesh garment industry, factory by factory.
And it is helping ensure a safer and brighter future for more than a million garment workers.
This life-saving safety transformation is powered by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which was founded two years ago by a group of global fashion brands and retailers that do business in Bangladesh. In a rare move, these companies agreed in July of 2013 to put aside their competitiveness and come together to address a range of fire- and building-safety hazards found throughout the country's booming garment industry.
I'm proud that Gap Inc. is a co-founder of the Alliance, and is helping to drive these positive safety changes across the Bangladesh garment industry. While the task before us can seem daunting at times, it is a great privilege to do such meaningful work on behalf of the women and men of Bangladesh.
[Protecting Garment Workers with a Text Message]
Today, garment factories that manufacture clothing for Gap Inc. are becoming safer, thanks to the installation of sprinkler systems, fire doors, handrails and other safety measures. As we enter the third year of the Alliance's five-year mission, there remains much remediation work ahead of us, but it is encouraging to see these tangible signs that safety improvements are underway.
In total, more than 600 Alliance factories will be making safety upgrades as they implement the corrective action plans that were jointly developed by the Alliance, safety experts and factory management. To meet final inspection status, each factory will need to meet the garment industry's first unified standard for electrical, fire and structural safety.
Importantly, the Alliance also recognizes that engaging Bangladeshi workers in this effort is crucial to success. This is their country, and their future at stake.
Through safety trainings for factory managers, the implementation of worker empowerment initiatives and the democratic election of worker health and safety committees, change is being led from the factory floor — where we will also see the greatest impact on workers and their families.
Here are some of the other accomplishments of the Alliance in its second year:
- Developing, in partnership with international institutions, two credit facilities to make affordable financing available to all factory owners from which Alliance Members source;
- Implementing a new training program targeted at factory security guards, a group with a unique leadership role to play in safety in case of emergency;
- Expanding the Alliance Helpline — Amader Kotha — to cover more than 400 factories; and
- Delivering on our commitment to empower workers by launching an occupational safety and health committee pilot in 12 Alliance factories.
In addition to remediation and other safety efforts underway, over the next three years, the Alliance will work with the government of Bangladesh, donor governments and all stakeholders to develop a plan to sustainably transfer our work to the responsible ministries, departments and other groups at the appropriate time.
There is no doubt that we face substantial challenges in completing this work, but we and the other members of the Alliance remain steadfast in our commitment to meeting the critical goals we have set.