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North American Retailers Band Together For Safer Factories In Bangladesh

Written by Ken Gaebler
Published: 5/30/2013

The "Safer Factories Initiative" will improve worker safety and prevent future tragedies at overseas production facilities.

The recent collapse of a Bangladesh garment production facility has spawned a wave of criticism against retailers that manufacture their products abroad. The tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of at least 1,100 workers, shined a light on the outsourcing of manufacturing to Bangladesh and raised important questions about the ethical responsibilities of U.S. retailers.

Bangladesh Working Conditions

In response to the disaster, five U.S. and Canadian apparel and retail trade associations have banded together to launch the "Safer Factories Initiative"--a project designed to create safer working environments for workers at foreign facilities.

The initiative calls for greater collaboration among the Bangladesh government, factory owners, workers, buyers in North America and Europe, organized labor and other stakeholders. Electricians and engineers will also be trained in proper building safety standards to reduce the risk of structural collapse or similar catastrophes.

For small businesses, the Bangladesh event underscores the importance of supplier relationships and the urgency of evaluating every link in the supply chain. Apart from the obvious ethical implications, small businesses are vulnerable to negative publicity generated by the actions of suppliers farther down the chain. It's possible for a single negative event to catalyze a PR spiral from which the business never fully recovers.

But despite the importance of avoiding negative publicity, most small business owners and retailers understand that the primary goal is improved worker safety. The Safer Factories Initiative comes on the heels of a multi-year effort by North American retailers to improve safety for workers in Bangladesh and other manufacturing regions. A large number of U.S. and Canadian retailers already require unannounced factory visits, audits, fire drills, fire prevention training and safety inspections.

It's expected that many retailers will expand these initiatives in light of recent events, further improving worker conditions and increasing safety levels for all workers, regardless of where they are located.

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