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Managing Director Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, Dhaka
Can you give us some data on the current scenario of garment industries in Bangladesh? Is the scenario better as compared to one year ago in terms of safety and infrastructure?
We have seen significant progress in improving factory safety over the past year. Our first priority was to conduct thorough inspections in 100 percent of the factories from which our members source. Importantly, remediation has already begun in 50 percent of those factories. In addition, 14 factories have been fully or partially closed as a result of inspections, thereby removing an immediate threat to the safety of many garment workers. Looking forward, our work is to ensure thorough remediation in 100 percent of the factories from which we source-and to continue building capacity on the ground to ensure that these reforms can reach the entire garment industry and can be sustained by the Bangladesh government in years to come.
What changes do you see in the garment industries of Bangladesh in terms of worker rights and minimum wages as compared to one year ago?
Over the past year, the Bangladesh government has taken steps towards greater worker empowerment and updating key laws that can positively impact workers. For instance, in November 2013, the government raised the minimum wage for garment workers by 77 percent to $68 a month. The new Occupational Safety and Health Committees was also a new legal requirement the Government put into place to ensure democratically elected worker representatives were empowered to address safety issues in a factory. In addition and most importantly, trade unions in the garment industry have also increased from just a handful to more than 200 in a year. This work must continue - and our work to protect and empower workers must extend to labor organizers, union leaders, and worker representatives.
Do you suppose that in order to lift the standard of Bangladesh garment industry with respect to sustainability, transparency is necessary among factory managers?
Transparency and accountability is critical to factory safety reform. The Alliance works closely with the Fair Factories Clearinghouse (FFC), a platform for member companies to publicly share assessment reports and remediation plans. Inspection reports and Corrective Action Plans are uploaded for all factories from which member companies source on a rolling basis as they are completed, reviewed and approved. Providing this data and ensuring it is current is a mandatory requirement of our Members Agreement. We also require that our members take steps to prevent unauthorized subcontracting to ensure that we have a clear view of which factories are supplying member companies. Finally, all of these reports are also shared with the Government of Bangladesh, and the government also posts the results publicly. This is a key requirement of the National Action Plan and can help ensure that all factories in Bangladesh have inspections and the results are publicly available.
What are the types of finances available to factory owners in order to make their factories more compliant to the alliance standards?
The Alliance or our individual members provides financial support to factories through several means. For instance, several Alliance members have committed to providing a combined total of more than $100 million in access to low-cost capital to fund necessary improvements. These bilateral loans between individual members of the Alliance and their factories have already started.
In addition, the Alliance is in discussions with the IFC (International Finance Corp) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop an additional low-cost loan program for any Alliance factory. Finally, the Alliance successfully lobbied the government of Bangladesh to eliminate tariffs on the importation of fire equipment, making necessary improvements more affordable for factory owners, since critical fire equipment not available in Bangladesh-such as fire doors and sprinkler systems-can be imported into Bangladesh at much lower rates.
Despite all the external support provided to Bangladesh workers, it is necessary for the workers to be aware about their rights and to voice out their opinion. If this is not done, the objective of creating a safe garment manufacturing industry in Bangladesh cannot be achieved. Do you agree? Please elaborate.
We view worker empowerment as a major determinant of successful factory safety reform-and this includes ensuring that workers are knowledgeable of their rights and able to act on them. That's why we unequivocally support the right of workers to refuse unsafe work.
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