An organization backed by global retailers including Gap, Target and Walmart is giving passing grades to Bangladeshi factories that have yet to implement life-saving safety changes the retailers pledged to put in place following a deadly building collapse in 2013 that killed 1,137 people, according to a new report published Monday.
The Guardian has been given an exclusive preview of the first independent systematic survey of the Bangladeshi garment factories used by the Alliance consortium of retailers set up after the deadly Rana Plaza factory collapse that triggered a global consumer backlash against major retailers.
Three and a half years after the building collapse, the authors conclude that the factories that provide clothes to some of the biggest names in retail have so far failed to implement key renovations by their own mandated deadlines and that:
- 62% still lack viable fire exits;
- 62% do not have a properly functioning fire alarm system;
- 47% have major, uncorrected structural problems.
The report concludes that in some cases, once firm deadlines for repairs and improvements set for 2014 and 2015 were scrapped to be replaced with a 2018 deadline that coincides with the end of the Alliance arrangement.
The Alliance disputed the report’s findings, saying it relied on inaccurate and outdated information. James Moriarty, country director for the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, said he was “totally confident” that the factories would meet retailers’ standards by 2018, when the agreement ends.
The fatal collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Savar, Bangladesh, in April 2013 is considered the world’s worst garment factory disaster. The disaster highlighted the hazardous working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry and prompted promises of change from retailers including Gap, H&M, Walmart and others.
In the wake of the tragedy, retailers formed two groups to address safety issues in Bangladesh. The first, Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, is led by H&M and backed by Adidas, Benetton, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and others. The signatories agreed to a legally binding agreement in accordance with local and international unions and to publish detailed public reporting of its progress.
Walmart declined to sign on to the Accord and founded the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a voluntary organization whose members include Gap; Target; Hudson’s Bay Company, whose brands include Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor; and VF Corporation, whose brands include North Face, Timberland, Vans and Wrangler. The Alliance has not publish detailed reports of its progress.
The new report, titled Dangerous Delays on Worker Safety, was compiled by the International Labour Rights Forum, the Worker Rights Consortium, the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Maquila Solidarity Network. It identified 175 factories which supply both Accord and Alliance’s signatories.
Using Accord’s detailed progress accounts from factories that also produce garments for Alliance members, the authors compiled a progress report looking at status reports for more than 2,000 required safety renovations across 350 spreadsheets of data.
The report found of the 107 factories labelled as being “on track” by the Alliance, 99 were still falling behind in one or more safety categories.
“The Alliance has never offered any justification for the decision to ignore its own safety deadlines. Nor has the Alliance explained why it is responsible to allow factories four years to carry out life-saving renovations that should have been completed in less than one, while still labeling those factories as ‘On Track’,” the authors of the report write.
In a letter to the report’s authors, Moriarty explained the Alliance’s decision to change its deadlines for renovations. “With respect to the Alliance’s metrics for categorizing a factory’s progress, we have adjusted our measurements to reflect the core question of whether a given factory will be substantially safe when the Alliance sunsets in 2018,” he wrote.
Moriarty questioned the report’s methodology. He told the Guardian he regularly met with Accord partners “and never has anything like this been raised about us falling behind on remediation issues”.
Moriarty said the two organisations now split the assessment of factories when both parties used the same facilities and while he conceded Accord members received regular updates, he said he was “confused” by the assertion that “folks sending emails once a month is more reliable than having trained engineers inspect factories and reporting their findings”.
“I trust my engineers. They are not lying to me and I am not lying when I put things down on paper,” he said.
“We in the Alliance are doing something that has never been done before. We are taking an existing industry that is seriously flawed and trying to correct it from scratch,” he said. “The assertion that we could get all this done in one year is frankly ludicrous to anyone who has an engineering or safety background and understands the past state or the current state of the industry.”
Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, defended the report’s methodology. He said Accord staff were well aware of any changes in status and regularly in contact with factory managers before they updated their reports. “What would be their incentive not to report progress?” he said.
The report argues the lack of progress “is placing the lives of thousands of workers in jeopardy”. The authors calculate some 120,000 garment workers employed in the 62 factories that produce items for Walmart do not have fully viable fire exit systems. Another 55,000 people are employed in factories making clothes for Gap that had compromised fire exits, the report found.
The issues persist even though 96% of the factories in the sample were inspected well over two years ago, the authors write.
While the group has also been critical of Accord factories, Nova said the H&M-led group had moved to address issues more quickly than the Alliance group and credited their greater transparency for the difference.
In a significant move to improve transparency, Moriarty said that from January all information from each of the Alliance’s visits would be published on the Fair Factories Clearinghouse (FFC) website, the same system that the Accord uses.
Nova said two main factors were contributing to the lack of progress: retailers were not putting enough pressure on factory owners to make improvements, and they were not contributing enough money to help the factory owners make the repairs. The average cost of implementing the promised safety renovations is between $400,000 and $500,000.
“What motivated Walmart and Target to do the right thing is public embarrassment. We are three and a half years on [from Rana Plaza] and they assume memories are fading,” said Nova.
“This data set, if anything, overstates progress. I’m not saying that nothing has been done – it’s just that this work should have been done a long time ago and you still have issues that could lead to fatalities,” he said.
Creadit : The Gourdian