Fire Safety in Bangladesh

While we’re taking an overall global approach to safety, we also recognize there’s a need for heightened attention to fire-related risks in countries such as Bangladesh. Our plans include collaborating with other brands and retailers to drive industry-wide results. In the interim of a collaborative approach being clearly defined, we’ve implemented certain factory requirements to address the most serious concerns. In 2012, we completed our work with suppliers to phase out of facilities deemed to be at high risk for fire-related incidents because they met one or more of the below fire safety risk criteria. 

Additional safety requirements

All facilities that produce merchandise sold by Walmart must adhere to a set of minimum standards for fire and building safety. In addition to compliance with our global safety standards and compliance with local laws, Walmart will not permit production in facilities that have one or more of the following structural fire safety characteristics:

  • A residential building that has been converted into an industrial facility
  • Facilities in a multi-story building with a ground-floor marketplace or commercial shops on any floor
  • Facilities in a multi-story building shared with other enterprises under separate ownership
  • Facilities with a rooftop that is partially obstructed (must be 100% clear)
  • Facilities where there is a residence located within the building

Comprehensive Inspection Program

Our audit program is designed to identify risks and provide information that can help factories take comprehensive preventative measures to prevent fires.  In 2010, we conducted an evaluation focused on fire safety in factories in Bangladesh.  Factories that fell under the following high risk categories were asked to phase out production to safer facilities:

  • Residential buildings converted to factories
  • Multi-story buildings located in market areas
  • Factories in multi-story industrial buildings shared with other factories

In 2012, we strengthened our fire safety standards in Bangladesh, and factories are audited regularly to verify compliance.  Examples of these standards include conducting regular fire drills, ensuring adequate number of exit routes and mandating fire safety training to all levels of factory management.  When factories do not meet these standards and corrective action does not occur, Walmart terminates the relationship.  Since 2010, Walmart has inactivated 94 factories in Bangladesh due to fire safety issues.  A further 23 factories have moved to safer buildings and locations.

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 for Bangladesh Worker Safety, we have collaborated with other brands to create and implement a training program to increase fire safety awareness among our suppliers and their employees in garment factories.  This Alliance training program has trained representatives from over 400 factories who returned to their factories to train more than 600,000 workers. In addition, Walmart has engaged Bureau Veritas to conduct fire safety training programs at more than 200 factories reaching an additional estimated 330,000 workers.

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, Walmart is working with the Bangladesh Manufacturers and Exporters Association to reinforce the critical need for improved fire safety, and we are also working with the government of Bangladesh to highlight effective steps that can be taken by the industry as a whole toward improved fire safety. 

We regularly meet with NGOs, brands and other stakeholders to discuss multi-stakeholders efforts, and last year we organized a supply chain meeting on fire safety that was attended by over 150 suppliers in Bangladesh.  Continued engagement is critical to verify that reliable, proactive measures are in place to reduce the chance of factory fires.  Among other engagements, we are currently in discussions regarding fire safety with several leading retailers and various brands who are participating in the Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP) with the goal of raising fire safety standards across the industry.

For more information on our fire safety initiatives in Bangladesh, please see our most recent Global Responsibility Report.