ETI announces its Bangladesh fire and building safety plan
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) has announced how it is working with its members to tackle the chronic health and safety issues affecting Bangladesh’s garment sector.
The UK-based alliance has worked with its member companies, trade unions and NGOs to develop the plan, which includes immediate actions and commitment to wider international efforts. This work began in force following the tragic Tazreen Fashions factory fire in November, with the framework reviewed and updated, following last week’s collapse of the Rana Plaza in Savar; the country’s worst industrial disaster.
ETI members sourcing from Bangladesh, alongside member trade unions and NGOs, will:
· Adopt a common approach to address fire and building safety in the garment sector in Bangladesh.
· Support the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Bangladesh to continue to bring local stakeholders together for the effective implementation of the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety for the RMG Sector in Bangladesh (NAP).
· Make their support for the NAP explicitly clear, with the efforts of all projects, programmes, business fire and building safety activity linked to or complementing the NAP.
· Continue with factory improvement actions, be they infrastructural, policy, systems and processes, or skills and competencies to meet an agreed minimum standard of fire and building safety for factories in the sector.
· Strengthen the mandated Health and Safety Committees in all factories in which improvements are being made, to promote meaningful dialogue between genuine worker representatives and management, in support of greatly improved fire and building safety.
ETI Director Peter McAllister said: “We are appalled by the recent factory fire tragedies, and last week’s deplorable Savar building collapse. Bangladesh is a key sourcing country for a significant number of our garment sector members, which have strong and long-standing relationships with this country. Together with our company, trade union and NGO members, we are committed to driving real, sustainable change for workers by tackling the chronic, widespread health and safety issues that plague Bangladesh’s garment sector.”
ETI is working with a number of international agencies, brands and trade unions to finalise an agreement on fire and building safety. Details of this alliance will be announced after 15 May. This agreement, with the active involvement of the ILO and IndustriALL, will include principles on governance, inspections, remediation, training, a complaints process, transparency and reporting, supplier incentives financial support and dispute resolution.
Peter McAllister said; “Bangladesh garment sector workers deserve to work in a safe and healthy environment, where their rights are respected and protected. The current situation is a far cry from this, and that’s simply unacceptable. Working with international partners, we have a fighting chance of driving long-lasting change. Whether you are a global brand, or a small retailer, and source from Bangladesh, we call on you to join these international efforts immediately.”
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector