Safety and compliance inspection in the country’s industrial sectors, especially in the apparel industry, is going to be digitalized soon, as part of the government’s move to technologically overhaul the country.
Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment (DIFE), a government entity under the Ministry of Labour and Employment, has undertaken the initiative, and it will oversee the whole digitalization process at factories, DIFE Inspector General Md Shamsuzzaman Bhuiyan told the Dhaka Tribune.
The initiative is aimed at making the inspection process faster and more transparent.
“In today’s world, everything is going digital. As a part of the government’s digitization process in every sector, the DIFE is going to digitize the safety inspection process at factories,” he said, adding that the initiative will be launched by early next year.
The prime objective of the move is to ensure accountability and transparency in the inspection process so that no one can manipulate inspection findings, he continued.
The DIFE introduced an e-filing system in February this year, and in October it brought a majority of its activities under the system.
“E-filing process is being followed everywhere, which is a prerequisite for achieving Digital Bangladesh or Vision 2021. Through this system, it is quite easier to provide services to people quickly and transparently,” Shamsuzzaman said.
State Minister for Labour and Employment Md Mujibul Haque Chunnu said the government would take every necessary step for Bangladesh to become a model country in terms of workers’ rights and safety.
International Labour Organization (ILO) is providing necessary financial and technical assistance to help improve safety and security of workers employed at different factories.
A total of 325 tablet computers were purchased under the project, and of them, 250 were provided by the ILO and 75 were bought by the DIFE.
There are currently 312 inspectors under the DIFE, who will conduct inspection at factories according to directives of the DIFE.
How the digitalized system works
In the digitalized inspection system, there is a checklist of safety and security issues in each of the tablets, and inspectors will input their collected data into them, which will instantly be saved in the server. Once data are input into the devises there will be no way to change or manipulate them.
The DIFE will fix a date in consultation with a factory owner and set an inspector the task of inspection. If the inspector fails to properly inspect the factory on a given day, he or she will not be allowed to carry out inspection there at a later date. There will be a fresh inspection date, and a new inspector will be assigned the task.
Pilot inspection system
Factory Insiders said they want a pilot inspection system so they can familiarize themselves with the process.
“Since factory owners and manufacturers do not have any experience in the digital process, I think there should be a pilot inspection system before launching the initiative,” said Faruque Hassan, senior vice president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
He, however, added that the digital system would not be a problem at all; rather, it would help ensure transparency and make the inspection process easier.
“I think there should be a scope for a second inspection if an allegation of the manipulation of findings surfaces.”
DIFE Inspector General Shamsuzzaman said they had already experimented with the process.
“I think there will be no problems as all the inspectors are well-trained. Factory owners need not be involved in the process. They will just be asked to help find out the spots where an inspection is needed.”
Anomalies and prospects
Voicing their concerns over irregularities by inspectors, factory insiders said that in the past, inspectors were often seen making illegal demands, and they threatened to entrap factory owners with false reports when the latter refused to meet their demands.
Seeking anonymity, a factory owner said: “Last year, an inspector went to my factory in Savar to monitor safety and social compliance issues. As I was not present there at the time, he collected my phone number from factory officials.
“Later, he phoned me and asked to contact him within two to three days. When I contacted him, the inspector demanded money for the inspection report.”
He said the digitalized system would significantly help reduce such anomalies by inspectors.
“I believe the new system will help stop the fleecing and harassment of factory owners. And due to the digitalized process, non-compliant factories will be compelled as well to improve safety standards,” he added.
Safety issues at the industrial sector came under the spotlight following the much-talked-about Tazreen Fashion fire and Rana Plaza collapse.
Hundreds of garment workers were killed in the two accidents, while countless more were either injured or maimed.
In the aftermath of the industrial disasters, foreign buyers and retailers, under the two platforms Accord and Alliance, took several initiatives in 2013 to improve safety and security at Bangladeshi RMG factories.
The ongoing safety inspection by Accord and Alliance will end in June 2018. Afterwards, inspection at the factories will be carried out by the DIFE.
Shamsuzzaman said the DIFE would inspect manufacturing industries on a regular basis in an effort to ensure workplace safety and for sustainable safety progress.
Initially, attention will be given to the RMG sector as it is currently going through a safety scanning, he said, adding that inspection will be carried out at other export-oriented as well as domestic industries.