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Taking action for Bangladesh garment workers

Company, ValuesMichelle Banks, Gap Inc. EVP and General Counsel1 Comment

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic building collapse at the Rana Plaza industrial complex in Bangladesh. Our hearts go out to the families and communities impacted by the tragic event.   

I recently traveled to Bangladesh, and returned home even more committed to our efforts to improve factory safety and support lasting, positive change for workers there. Bangladesh is a vital part of our company’s supply chain – and the supply chain of many other retailers. However, despite the industry boom, problems remain.  Rapid growth and urbanization coupled with weak enforcement of building codes and labor laws have contributed to a series of high-profile factory incidents over the last few years. Gap Inc. never worked with Rana Plaza, but the tragedy was a wake-up call for our entire industry.

Since the disaster, progress has been made. In July 2013, Gap Inc. and other retailers formed the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. The Alliance recently announced completion of fire safety, structural and electrical inspections in more than half of the factories where members’ clothing is produced. And with over 400,000 factory managers and workers trained on fire and building safety issues, the Alliance is on target to meet its goal of training more than one million garment workers by this July. As a result of these inspections, factory owners are beginning the necessary structural and fire safety improvements to make their factories safer for their workers.  And thanks to new fire doors, sprinklers and smoke detection systems, thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh are benefitting from a safer work environment.

I have been asked why Gap Inc. simply doesn’t send manufacturing orders elsewhere. There are several factors that determine where our products are manufactured, and responsible sourcing is one of them.  Bangladesh has become a key global sourcing market, second only to China in garment exports. Despite its challenges, the garment industry has played a key role in improving workers’ lives in Bangladesh and advancing the country’s economic development.  More than four million people in Bangladesh depend on garment industry jobs supported by business from global retailers. We believe it is important to stay and be part of driving sustainable change.

Long-term solutions will take time.  Gap Inc. joins many others working to help ensure that safe workplaces in Bangladesh become the rule, not the exception, for those employed in the Bangladesh garment industry.  

Michelle Banks is Gap Inc.’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel. Michelle played a central role in the creation of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. She also supported the creation of Gap Inc.’s first Human Rights Policy in 2010, and established the Company’s Governance and Global Integrity functions.