Our Commitment to the Workers of Bangladesh
Responsible Sourcing in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is an important sourcing market for Walmart and the retail industry generally, and the country relies on the retail industry to support its economy. We believe we can do good in Bangladesh by continuing to source and by working to improve building, fire and electrical safety in factories. We believe that transparency about these efforts will help all stakeholders understand opportunities and improve factory conditions.
Walmart is a founding member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance), comprising 28 North American retailers and brands (as of March 2016) who joined together to develop and launch the Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative, a binding, five-year undertaking created with the intent of improving safety in ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh. We believe the Alliance will help lead to significant fire and building safety improvements for factory workers in Bangladesh.
In addition to supporting the Alliance, Walmart contributes to efforts to improve worker safety in the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh. For example, we worked with Bureau Veritas (BV), a world leader in assessment and certification services, to complete four phases of inspections for factories in Bangladesh that produce ready-made garments directly for Walmart. The results of these inspections have been harmonized with Alliance activity, and these factories are now part of the Alliance process. We also are supporting capacity building, remediation and training designed to improve safety and working conditions at ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh.
Collaboration & Engagement
We recognize that no single organization or company can bring lasting change to the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh. True reform requires multiple stakeholders, including governments, working together for change.
Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety
Walmart is a founding member of the Alliance, which works to help improve building, fire and electrical safety throughout Bangladesh. According to the Alliance’s Second Annual Report, published September 2015, it has:
- Trained more than 1.1 million factory employees on basic fire safety
- Piloted a helpline in more than 400 factories where workers can anonymously report safety or other job-related concerns
- Provided, together with factory owners, wages for more than 6,000 displaced workers
- Published the results of factory inspections on its website, along with corrective action plans for factories entering remediation
For more information on the Alliance’s accomplishments, refer to the Alliance’s Second Annual Report, available alongside other Alliance publications here.
We are particularly encouraged by the role of training in promoting factory safety in Bangladesh. An independent assessment performed by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health found that Alliance training led to an improvement in factory workers’ knowledge and awareness of fire safety, that workers have a much better understanding of fire hazards and their role in emergencies and evacuations, and that an overwhelming majority of workers liked the content and delivery of the trainings they received. Selected pre- and post-training figures include:
- Know how to react in case of an emergency: 61% before training, 88% after training
- Know the basic components of a fire: 34% before training, 71% after training
- Can correctly identify common fire safety hazards: 2% before training, 45% after training
- Agree that fire drills should be organized during peak season: 37% before training, 84% after training
- Feel unsafe in the factory in which they work most of the time: 25% before training, 6% after training
- Feel it is their obligation to report unsafe conditions: 67% before training, 90% after training
- Would talk to their supervisors about safety concerns: 75% before training, 94% after training
Factories in Bangladesh are undergoing remediation in several areas, including upgrading of electrical systems, installation or upgrading of fire suppression systems, installation of fire doors, construction of additional staircases and installation of alarm systems.
Walmart and the Alliance fully support these remediation efforts. So, when factories close for remediation, the Alliance and factory owners together provide workers with full pay for up to four (4) months.
Building Capacity in Bangladesh
We believe sustainable, long-lasting improvements in the global supply chain can be achieved in part through proactive programs that empower workers and build factory and supplier capacity.
Capacity building programs we have helped implement in Bangladesh include:
- The Women in Factories Training Program is a five-year initiative by Walmart and the Walmart Foundation to work with NGOs in Bangladesh, India, China, Honduras and El Salvador to provide critical life and work skills training to at least 60,000 women in the supply chain. The curriculum, developed in partnership with CARE, an NGO dedicated to fighting global poverty, provides program participants with the fundamental life and work skills necessary to be successful in the workplace, at home and in their communities. As of March 2016, 104,160 women had received foundational training through this program.
- Walmart contributed $1.6 million to the Institute of Sustainable Communities (ISC) to support the Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Academy in Bangladesh. Through the EHS Academy, more apparel manufacturers in Bangladesh will have access to high-quality, affordable and comprehensive training on fire safety and environmental, health and workplace safety.
Supporting the Victims of Tragedies in Bangladesh
Our hearts go out to the victims of Bangladesh tragedies, both those families who lost loved ones and those workers who have been on a long road to recovery. Walmart believes in stepping up and helping, which is why Walmart and the Walmart Foundation together contributed $3 million to BRAC, a global NGO based in Bangladesh, to support those affected by Rana Plaza and other disasters. From that donation, $1 million was contributed to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, $250,000 was contributed to the Tazreen Claims Administration Trust and the remainder was earmarked for continued support for BRAC's work to provide counseling and rehabilitation and a reserve emergency fund that can be used to respond rapidly to garment factory accidents.
While we did not have production at Rana Plaza at the time of that tragedy, our contribution to BRAC's fund underlines our focus on positively impacting global supply chain practices and driving systemic improvement by collaborating with other stakeholders to improve conditions for workers across the industry.
We will continue to invest our resources in proactive programs that will help enable suppliers and their facilities to meet our standards and to help prevent tragedies.
We recognize a need for heightened attention to fire-related risks in certain parts of the world, including Bangladesh. Our plans include re-emphasizing our standards, training suppliers and facilities and collaborating with other brands and retailers to drive industry-wide results.
Monitoring and Consequences
Our audit program and audits conducted through the Alliance provide us with the opportunity to identify risks and provide information that can help factories take measures to reduce the likelihood of fires and fire-related injuries. We also conducted a separate evaluation of Bangladesh facilities focused on fire safety; factories that fell within several high-risk categories were asked to shift production to other facilities.
We have reinforced our fire safety standards for Bangladesh facilities and audit against those standards. When factories do not meet these standards and corrective action does not occur, Walmart may impose consequences up to and including termination of the relationship.
Fire Safety Training Programs
Walmart has been working across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education in Bangladesh. Through our participation in the Alliance, we have collaborated with other brands to create and implement a training program to increase fire safety awareness among our suppliers and their facilities and workers. This Alliance training program has trained representatives from nearly 600 factories who returned to their factories to train more than 1.1 million workers. Walmart also delivers its own fire safety training to new Bangladesh factories producing goods for sale at Walmart through its Responsible Sourcing Audit Orientation program.
Ongoing Stakeholder Engagement
Fire safety is an industry-wide challenge in Bangladesh and, as a result, we actively work with a variety of stakeholders to raise awareness of fire safety and establish best practices for fire prevention.
For example, through the Alliance, Walmart is working with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association to reinforce the critical need for improved fire safety. We have also engaged with the government of Bangladesh to highlight effective steps that can be taken by the government toward improved, sustainable fire safety.
We regularly meet with NGOs, brands and other stakeholders to discuss multi-stakeholder efforts. Continued engagement allows us to verify that reliable, proactive measures are in place to reduce the chance of factory fires.