Response to Alliance Letter re: Future of Factory Safety in Bangladesh

Please see Ambassador Moriarty's letter here: pdf.

Our response to the letter is in full below and here: pdf.

Ambassador James F. Moriarty (ret.)
Executive Director, Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety

December 4, 2017

Dear Ambassador Moriarty

Thank you for your November 28 letter. We have appreciated our continued open dialogue with the Alliance, and we share your objective of improving workplace safety in Bangladesh. We would like to post your letter on our website. If we do so, we would post this response, as well.

You address three main issues in your letter. The first relates to the Alliance’s transition plans and your timeline for phasing out your efforts in Bangladesh.  As you say, we cite press reports in our November 9 commentary that say the Alliance will phase out its operations next spring or summer. From your response it sounds as if the Alliance will not conclude its operations until safety concerns in all of the factories in your program have been “fully remedied.” Your clarification on the anticipated timing of “full remediation” would be welcome.

The second issue relates to what you will consider “full remediation.” According to the Alliance's November progress report, 247 out of 658 active Alliance factories have now completed Corrective Action Plans. This is a commendable achievement in a very challenging environment. However it is our understanding that a number of the remaining factories have significant structural problems that will be expensive to correct. How do you intend to complete the Corrective Action Plans for these factories, and what will you do if suppliers of Alliance brands are either unable or unwilling to make these needed structural repairs?

Finally, you address the issue of subcontracting factories. This has been a subject of particular concern to us since 2013. As you know, in 2015, the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights produced a detailed report in which we documented the existence of more than 7,100 factories and facilities producing for the export market. Our estimate was confirmed in a subsequent study published by BRAC in 2016. This is not a minor detail. The business model of Alliance companies is dependent on these subcontracting factories to meet their deadlines, especially when they place high-volume orders in busy seasons. Many of these subcontracting factories have very serious safety issues. We continue to believe that it is unrealistic to assume that the Government of Bangladesh or the owners of these subcontracting factories will be able to address these safety issues on their own. Do you see any systemic changes in Bangladesh that leads you to believe that this will change in the foreseeable future? Are there steps the Alliance is considering to help address this set of challenges?  Even your acknowledgment of the scope and importance of these issues would help encourage the development of a more comprehensive approach to factory safety.

We are eager to discuss these issues further with you and your colleagues, including members of the Alliance Board. Please let us know when you might be available to speak by phone or to meet. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

April Gu
Associate Director
and
Dorothee Baumann-Pauly
Research Director
NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights