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Protections for Textile Workers in Developing Countries

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Fires, Collapsing Buildings and Other Safety Issues Kill Thousands

Workers in Unsafe Textile FactoryA few decades ago, news reports about the terrible conditions for workers in Asia shocked the West. In Bangladesh, roughly 75% of the nation’s exports are connected to textiles and about 45% of all employment is related to this industry. Unfortunately, most of the power in Bangladesh is controlled by a few ruling elites whose ideas about worker safety are decidedly at odds with Christian values.

A major wake-up call happened when Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013, killing over 1,000 workers.

There were a number of factors contributing to the collapse and high death toll. This is not the place to review them in detail but an emphasis on profits over safety is a prime reason. A pressing issue for investors like us is who was using this manufacturing facility.

The Hidden Menace of Subcontractors

It’s important to note that Walmart never contracted directly with any company that endangered workers. They had vetting systems in place to ensure their contracts were never awarded to companies that put workers at risk So, when The Rana Plaza collapse occurred, Walmart was surprised when we approached them with regards to their role in the disaster.

Even though Walmart never contracted with any company working out of the Rana Plaza facility, their clothing was being made there.

To their credit, Walmart had been very good at avoiding companies that operated unsafe clothing factories. Unfortunately, there was a blind spot in their overall plan. Unscrupulous companies that were awarded contracts would subcontract out the work without notifying Walmart. Thus, Walmart’s clothes were, in some instances, made in very unsafe factories entirely without Walmart’s knowledge. This is exactly how they were involved in the Rana Plaza disaster.

The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety: Improving the Lives of Millions of Workers

Employee in Safe Factory after Catholic Impact InvestingOnce we had engaged Walmart and explained the situation, they sprang into action. Organizing rapidly, they created The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a five year, multi-pronged approach to improving the lives of workers in Bangladesh. Walmart’s position as a global leader helped ensure the success of The Alliance.

Target, Costco, Gap, Inc and many other companies joined The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and real change has happened.

The five year plan has been completed and the results are very promising. 93% of all items identified as requiring remediation were addressed. Almost 1.6 million workers were trained on personal fire protection measures and 28,000 security guards were trained on proper facility evacuations and fire safety protocols. A special worker helpline and worker safety committees have been set up to ensure ongoing support and progress towards safer working conditions. Over time, we hope our advocacy work will ensure all people in Bangladesh work under safe conditions, regardless of industry.

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