Empowering Factory Workers in Bangladesh

By Jan Saumweber
April 24, 2014
Ethical sourcing factory workers

Last week I traveled to Bangladesh to see first-hand the progress that Walmart and the Alliance are making to improve the lives of garment workers. During my visit, I met with a number of stakeholders and saw their excitement and commitment to making the workplace safer. My key take-away -- real change, for the good, is happening across the garment industry.

I got to see the impact of this work when I visited a clothing factory where new certified fire doors and a hydrant pump system are now installed.  Here the workers and management have also been through fire safety training, crucially, how to safely and quickly evacuate the building.  We often take for granted that most people know what to do in case of a fire, but here special attention is being given to deliver training in a way that the management, worker representatives and workers fully understand and can act upon.  

It’s clear everyone has a critical role to play, including our suppliers and factory owners.  I was heartened to hear from one of our largest suppliers that this is nothing new – investing in building safety is something that Walmart has required for years.  A year later, we are pleased that improved standards are reverberating across the industry.  Today brands who are typically fierce competitors – have aligned upon a common set of world-class standards that will make the overall ready-made garment industry safer in Bangladesh.  These common standards allow factories to identify critical needs and focus on areas for improvement. This is a joint effort between a number of retailers, who are investing in the long term sustainability of the industry.

Everyone I met is absolutely focused on empowering the people that work in the factories. As well as health and safety training, we also want to ensure they are living better lives outside of work too.  On the last day of my journey, I met with CARE, a global NGO, and women participating in our Women in Factories training program.  These women, like those in our other sourcing markets around the world are receiving a critical life skills education.  Their stories were inspirational -- women who are the future of Bangladesh are finding their voices and the confidence to improve their lives at work and at home – giving hope to their future and communities. 

I’m proud of the work our team is doing on the ground to continue to improve the lives of many.  Of course, there is much more work to do but I am positive that by working together we’ll bring lasting and sustainable change to the region.