IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative has launched its Life And Building Safety (LABS) initiative for the apparel and footwear sectors in India recently. The initiative was also launched in Vietnam on August 6, 2019. Major brands including Bestseller, Gap Inc., PVH, Target, VF Corporation, and Walmart have joined the program that will operate in all major industrial hubs, covering small, medium, and large enterprises in these countries. Together, in 2019, these brands cover hundreds of factories and around 163,400 workers in Vietnam, and 125,000 workers in India.

With a pressing need to protect workers from structural, fire and electrical safety risks, several leading apparel brands approached IDH to leverage learnings from Bangladesh and replicate them in other key apparel sourcing countries. This led to the development of the LABS Initiative. The LABS participants include a group of European, Asian and US-based businesses, facilitated by the LABS Secretariat, which engages with local stakeholders such as industry associations, CSOs, governments, and institutes to create better safety policies and provisions. The LABS standard and methodology are based on international best practices and codes, such as the International Building Code, National Building Code of India among others. Under LABS, in addition to applicable country laws, factories commit to adhering to a harmonized, country level standard around structural, fire, and electrical safety.

IDH will support the overall facilitation of LABS and development of operational set up in the two countries. Pramit Chanda, Global Director for Sustainable Manufacturing – IDH and LABS Spokesperson said, “The tragic events at apparel factories in the last few years have brought to fore the pressing need to address life and building safety in the industry. Learning from such events, the Life and Building Safety (LABS) Initiative was established. Aimed at improving worker safety in the apparel and footwear industries, LABS effectively identifies and mitigates the potential risks related to fire, electrical, and structural building safety and evacuation. LABS is a coherent and consistent worker-safety program to assess factories and provide a framework for monitoring, mitigation and remediation.”

DK Shami, Fire Advisor, Director General Fire Services, Civil Defence and Home Guards, Ministry of Home Affairs, said, “Due to tragic incidents in the apparel industry, the industry has got a lot of attention in the recent years at a global level. The factories in India also work in similar conditions and there are several incidents reported each year from these. This reinforces the need to have these standards and their enforcement in place. The government of India is ready to adopt innovative, cost effective models. If there is a requirement to improve, we will adapt at the national level. We look forward to receiving recommendations and taking learnings from the LABS Initiative for improving the national standards on safety in the sector.”

Speaking about joining the Initiative, Kyle Bogler, Worker Rights and Safety Director – VF Corp. said, “Every decision we make at VF Corp. revolves around our purpose statement – ‘We power movements of sustainable and active lifestyles for the betterment of people and our planet’ – A key word in that is people. When you put people first, you can understand why VF is a founding member of the LABS Initiative. LABS has developed a set of harmonized standards, which are locally relevant, that focus on the top three preventable safety risks people face in a factory. Through multi-stakeholder collaboration, we have everyone moving in the same direction, with the ultimate goal of driving change and saving lives. Another key facet of the LABS Initiative is the bottom up approach to training and the worker helpline. This gives a sometimes-underrepresented group of people the chance to understand their role in preventing deadly accidents.

LABS is aimed at setting a benchmark safety standard against which apparel, and footwear factories are assessed. The LABS assessment is not a code-compliance check; however, it defines a required level of safety based on international best practices, considering the local context. All technical standards consist of an interrelated set of measures which, taken together, are assumed to provide an acceptable level of safety in a building.

Key points:

  • The program will operate in all major industrial hubs in each country, covering both small, medium, and large enterprises
  • Together, these brands cover hundreds of factories and around 125,000 workers will benefit in India in 2019
  • In India: Assessments will be carried out pan India in Haryana, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, and Chennai among other States
  • In Vietnam, about 163,400 workers will benefit, in 2019