Although a transition period in industrial safety has been ongoing with new organizations expected to contribute to the institutionalization process, not all factories have been covered under such initiatives
Safety measures went down in the RMG sector in the post-Accord-Alliance period, leaving about 22.5% of the 4,000 garment factories uninspected, said Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
He made this remark during his keynote presentation on the findings of a jointly conducted study by CPD and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), during a webinar titled “Challenges of Industrial Safety in the Post-Accord-Alliance Era- Is the Institutionalisation Process Slowing Down?”
According to the study, although no major differences were observed in the total number of incidences between the two periods, the nature of incidences started to change during the post-Accord-Alliance period.
Earlier, where the majority of incidents in the Accord-Alliance period was related to fires, in the period following their departure, incidents diversified from fire to electrical and structural problems, with newer types like boiler and gas cylinder explosions.
“The rising number of accidents raises questions about the effectiveness of the institutional process followed for maintaining industrial safety in the post-Accord-Alliance period,” the speaker added.
CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun said although the Accord and Alliance initiatives have helped develop the export-oriented sector, a number of recent industrial accidents have induced uncertainties on the sustainability of any progress that has been achieved.
According to the study, the number of incidents increased by 100% in FY2020 compared to that in FY2019, followed by a decline of 20% in FY2021 in earlier inspected factories, as well as unregistered factories.
Although a transition period in industrial safety has been ongoing with new organizations expected to contribute to the institutionalization process, not all factories have been covered under such initiatives.
Additionally, there has been a shortage of skilled and efficient professionals and engineers in associations responsible for ensuring standards, difficulty in publishing inspection reports due to external pressure, lack of transparency, among others.
"More than 450,000 establishments remain unregistered while 9 million factories, shops, and establishments are registered,” said DIFE Inspector General Md Nasir Uddin Ahmed, while highlighting the shortage of manpower in the institutions for proper inspection.
Syed Manzur Elahi, chairman of Apex Group, pointed out that security and compliance in the garment sector should not wait for external pressures such as those from buyers.
There has been an increasing trend of industrial accidents caused by the lack of proper coordination, monitoring, and enforcement of industrial safety measures in the export-oriented sector.
A total of 222 garment factories caught fire in 2020, of which 66% were export-oriented, according to the Fire Service and Civil Department.
Meanwhile, according to the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), the number of injured workers in factory-related incidents increased by almost 24% in 2020 compared to that in 2019.
Speakers during the webinar concurred that a major focus of the post-Accord-Alliance period should be to complete the institutionalization process of industrial safety in the RMG sector and give it a shape of sustainability to avoid any incidents such as that of the Shezan Juice factory fire incident in Narayanganj.
Development partners and the representatives of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and RMG industry representatives also spoke at the webinar.