It had been four years since I last set foot in Dhaka.
I used to fly to Bangladesh every few months in my former role, working alongside key organizations to improve business practices within the garment industry. Today I’m doing the same kind of work as a Gap Inc. employee.
I recently returned to participate in the first-ever fire and building safety expo in the country’s history. I saw first-hand how Gap Inc.’s own fire and structural safety efforts are impacting every factory we work with in Bangladesh and it left me feeling hopeful like never before.
Everyone who has worked in Bangladesh knows that it is challenging. Despite the garment industry’s significant growth here, the government has made little investment in raising and enforcing factory standards. Social unrest is common, particularly among factory workers. The impact of poverty on people’s health and lack of education is startling. And the complexities of doing business in a country that has frequent disruptions due to strikes and port closures is, to say the least, difficult.
Yet the livelihood of more than two million workers in Bangladesh, most of whom are women, depends on its garment industry.
Gap Inc. launched its 4-point fire and building safety program in 2012. But we knew our impact needed to extend beyond the factories we worked with. It’s why we played an integral role in founding the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety following the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse. That tragedy underscored the need for all global retailers to take action to improve the lives of these workers; regardless of the fact that Gap Inc. did not make clothes there. Along with the Alliance’s 25 North American apparel companies, we are working to implement new standards across the industry to build sustainable changes.
Nearly every one of the factories we work with has made significant progress, including simple yet life-saving changes like adding hand-rails on staircases and fire detection systems. We’re also seeing bigger investments across the board, such as purchasing and importing fire safety doors and sprinkler systems.
I’m optimistic that our efforts will have a long-lasting impact on garment workers here. And, I am proud to be a part of this progress.