In a historic pact that covers the overwhelming majority of North American apparel imports from Bangladesh, an unprecedented alliance of North American retailers came together to announce today the unified purpose of dramatically improving factory safety conditions in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative was developed over the past five weeks under the guidance of former U.S. Senators George J.
Mitchell and Olympia Snowe, acting as independent facilitators at the Bipartisan Policy Center. The 17 retailers have formed the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety to support the binding five-year initiative, which sets aggressive timelines and accountability for inspections, training and worker empowerment. The initiative calls for inspections of 100 percent of alliance 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.
Under the initiative’s inspection program, inspectors will prioritize factory safety risks for remediation efforts, and also are empowered to report immediately to the alliance, WPCs, building owners, and the Bangladeshi government any dangerous safety conditions, up to and including calling for factory closure and evacuation of workers.
The initiative also includes a key role for an independent chair of the Board of Directors that is responsible for oversight. Members of the alliance are providing the funding necessary over the five-year period — currently at $42 million and growing — to support the specific programs of the initiative, with some companies offering an additional combined total of over $100 million in loans and access to capital to assist factory owners they work with in Bangladesh for factory safety improvements.
The CEOs of the alliance members made a joint statement today, saying: “The safety record of Bangladeshi factories is unacceptable and requires our collective effort. We can prevent future tragedies by consolidating and amplifying our individual efforts to bring about real and sustained progress.”
A primary goal of the alliance is the engagement of and partnership with the Bangladeshi and U.S. governments, as well as with the factory owners to ensure that there is accountability among all parties and thus the opportunity for sustained and lasting change in Bangladesh.
Senator Mitchell described the Bipartisan Policy Center’s role in facilitating the creation of the alliance, saying, “We sought and received input from a wide range of interested parties, including, among others, the governments of Bangladesh and the United States, fire and safety experts, and worker representatives. The discussions were detailed and extensive. While there were many differences, in interests and on issues, the dominant common theme was the importance, indeed the necessity, of developing and implementing a meaningful plan of action to dramatically improve worker safety in the garment industry in Bangladesh.”
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