At BIG W our company Purpose is to make a real difference for families. We treat everyone like ‘family’ - our team, our customers, our suppliers and our community. BIG W’s response to COVID-19 across the supply chain was further grounded in our values; always being fair and to do the right thing in all regions in which we operate.
This is no truer than in our garment supply chain in Bangladesh that has been identified as higher risk during our COVID-19 response. We engaged our 27 suppliers in Bangladesh from the start of the pandemic through close communication with our commercial and responsible sourcing teams. Together, the teams worked with suppliers to first ensure the safety and well-being of workers, and secondly to maintain the integrity of core labour standards articulated in our Responsible Sourcing Standards.
Meeting our commercial commitments to suppliers was important throughout the peak of the pandemic. Not only was it the right thing to do, it has helped foster trust and strengthen relationships with supplier partners. We honoured all our future commitments to our partners and factories to pay in full for orders that were complete and those that were still in production. All wages were paid in line with legal requirements at all BIG W supplier sites, including Eid bonus for factories in Bangladesh.
Since the outbreak, BIG W has continuously monitored the situation with a focus on workers most at risk. This includes migrant workers (internal and cross-border) and those working and living in COVID-19 hotspots. With teams on the ground in both China and Bangladesh, we have been able to provide direct support to our suppliers whose sites are at risk of infection.
In China, the outbreak of COVID-19 and the factory shutdowns started during Chinese New Year (February) and the return to work was closely monitored by local authorities. We have resumed our Responsible Sourcing audit program for sites in China.
In Bangladesh, our team has been instrumental in supporting factories as they return to work. Our commercial teams receive weekly updates on the situation on the ground including COVID-19 outbreak areas, government announcements, industry perspectives, supplier safety measures and how cases of COVID-19 are managed in our supply chain.
Virtual site visits are one of the tools we have developed to verify factories are meeting government mandated safety measures. To date, our team has completed 12 virtual site visits in Bangladesh to review COVID-19 safety measures such as temperature checks, personal protective equipment and adequate social distancing are implemented.
Supplier Speak Up is one channel that enables us to hear the concerns of workers. Speak Up material (website and worker information poster) is available in Bengali and has been distributed to suppliers. We are also partnering with ELEVATE, our Responsible Sourcing Program partners, to conduct worker surveys in a number of our suppliers’ facilities.These will help verify our current information and identify potential gaps in our response.
We know strategic partnerships are key to building back better. BIG W is committed to long term engagement with our supplier partners and workers in Bangladesh. This is why, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, we made the decision to join ACT to help drive progress in improving wages in the global garment and footwear industry. BIG W is a member of ACT’s Bangladesh Country Group alongside local trade unions and the BGMEA. We will continue to work closely within ACT to support Bangladesh’s apparel sector respond to and build back from COVID-19.
We similarly endorse the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global Call to Action to support garment workers during COVID-19. We will operationalise this commitment by maintaining our current program of work in Bangladesh and through ACT.