Though workplace safety in garment factories inspected by foreign retailers’ platforms has significantly improved since the tragic Rana Plaza incident, safety concerns in the government-monitored factories have not been addressed as expected.
The foreign buyers’ platforms – Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Accord) and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (Alliance) – have been working to improve safety standards in the country’s apparel industry since the horrific industrial disaster that took place in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, in April 2013, leaving over 1,100 people dead and countless more maimed.
Later, the government under the aegis of the International Labour Organization forged another platform – National Initiative (NI) – to inspect workers’ safety in factories that are not included in the two platforms.
Overall, 77% of safety risks in the Accord-inspected factories have been addressed with 90% of defects fixed in electrical safety and 73% in fire safety standards, according to the latest data.
On the other hand, 75% of flaws have been addressed in the Alliance-monitored ones with 81% of faults fixed in electrical safety and 74% in fire safety measures. And, as of on Sunday, 74 of the Alliance factories and 61 of the Accord factories implemented all provisions outlined in their Corrective Action Plans (CAPs).
“Workplace safety in Bangladesh’s RMG sector has improved significantly in the past four years. But, there is still a lot to do for factories to be safe,” Accord Executive Director Rob Wayss told the Dhaka Tribune.
Since many of the factories have yet to address their remediation issues, he put emphasis on completing remediation for their fire, electrical and structural safety. Wayss also underlined the need for retrofitting, emergency access and egress, and quick installation of fire detection and suppression equipment.
Echoing Wayss, ILO Country Director in Bangladesh Srinivas B Reddy said there had been a considerable improvement in workplace safety in the sector thanks to the collective efforts of the government, Accord, Alliance, employers, workers’ organisations and other development partners.
However, there has been no visible progress in safety measures taken for the NI-inspected factories as it is yet to start remediation process. As of now, only four factory owners have approved the CAPs, while the others are still awaiting the NI’s directives.
As progress in the NI measures is slow compared to that of Accord and Alliance, Reddy said it was important to recognise that the work is more about ensuring safety than simply fixing flaws.
He also highlighted the need for a credible and sustainable monitoring as well as compliance system to make sure the progress is sustainable.
Md Shamsuzzaman Bhuiyan, inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), said: “Remediation process under the NI will start very soon.”
The DIFE has already finalised deals with 26 engineering farms to work on structural safety, while another 20 farms have initially been selected to work on fire and electrical safety issues, he added.
The official also said they were in discussion with some 90 engineers who would supervise the inspection work.
According to the DIFE, 500 of the 1,549 NI-inspected factories are running business in their own buildings while the rest are housed in rented buildings.
Shamsuzzaman said they would hold meeting with factory owners running business in their own buildings and set a time limit for them to finish their inspection work.
“Those who are running business in shared or rented buildings will have to run the factories either in their own buildings or buildings that are safe; or else they will be asked to shut down the businesses,” he added.
Sirajul Islam Rony, president of Bangladesh National Garment Workers Employees League, said: “No doubt workplace safety in the factories has improved to a great extent. But, there are concerns about the NI-monitored factories.”
Stakeholders suggested developing a mechanism to complete the remediation process as soon as possible to avert any possible accident. And, the retailers’ platforms, trade union leaders, rights activists emphasised providing workers with necessary training and safety knowledge and building capacity of committees working on safety.