• Wednesday, May 27, 2020
  • Last Update : 12:38 am

Looking inside the RMG reality

  • Published at 08:03 pm February 18th, 2020
FIle photo: Readymade Garment Workers seen working in a factory Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Why transparency and communication are key

These days we come across a good number of write-ups covering a gamut of issues concerning RMG -- our vital employment-generating and foreign exchange-earning sector. 

Considerable awareness has been raised on issues like worker welfare and rights, enhanced worker-owner relationships, product diversification, automation and modernization, pollution control, environment friendliness, sustainability, retailer-buyer relationships, and the like. 

We have considerable arrangements on ground for monitoring worker rights, including BEPZA, BGMEA, rights groups, labour organizations, and activists. 

Thanks to concerted efforts by Accord and Alliance, we have reached a reputable standard in RMG and that, in spite of multifarious challenge. 

How about employees of the level of supervisors, managers at the floor level, factories and other segments of quality, production, merchandising and a host of other factors? How well are they being looked after, and how about their rights and privileges and the working environment? 

Are there enough efforts to ensure transparency and communication across the board, a healthy relationship between the top management and the staff at the floor or factory level? 

There are factories enjoying all the prestige and privileges of being inside EPZ, termed as elite factories compared to “Bangla factories” outside. 

Most of them are suppliers for renowned global brands. They have posh offices, nice lounges to host buyers from reputed brands in almost five star comfort. They have traces of enchanting greenery around, well cared for by arboriculture specialists, maybe a fountain flowing to create all the thrill of being so close to nature and enviably green. 

As a valued visitor, one comes across the smartly dressed receptionist waiting to greet warmly. Visits from buyers are always given the highest priority -- they would find everything immaculately in order. 

As they are taken round, all workers are deeply engrossed in their workstations with tidy uniform, head scarf and mask on. You can hear only the sound of machines with all aisles clear. 

But the real inside story may be little different. You may find that some hundreds of extra workers -- who would otherwise give a feeling of congested workplace -- have been removed or sent home that very morning, stocks of finished products or waste items taking up floor space instead.

All this, because we must create an impression that we abide by the criteria of compliance and follow a zero-tolerance policy. Don’t get surprised if you find that a good percentage of the workers’ washrooms do not have a functioning toilet flush. 

The poor maintenance guy had been sending out mail after mail. But who cares? How can you really spend so much for an unproductive purpose? Twice a day workers are confronted with “no water in the washrooms.” 

A huge floor is functioning without AC in the sweltering heat, thus making life unbearable for workers. The floor manager and HR people are constantly going around convincing the ill-fated workers that they too are sharing the same hardship and that it would be over soon.

Even if temporary, why must the workers be put through such suffering? Such things happen only because of a lack of focus, transparency, and communication. 

Such dire necessities are totally ignored because our workers are very docile and helpless, with no choice but to endure whatever comes their way. 

The big boss is coming to visit from his abode in a mega city abroad today as he does once a month. The production, quality, merchandising, IE, HR heads are kept waiting for an uncertain period without knowing when and if at all they will be called. 

The big boss is ushered into a posh hall room, sits with his favourite croissant and mug of black coffee in front. Recently there has been cancellation of some orders following a visit from some buyer representatives. They noticed some excess workers on the floor while some were trying to run away as the visit was in progress. 

Nobody dares to utter a single word, all stand like mummified slaves. Yes, highly paid corporate slaves they are, some of them even earning to the tune of $20,000 a month. 

There have also been renovations on a major sewing floor from a dilapidated shed to a newly constructed multi-storey factory floor. But it was done very hurriedly. 

This represents a total lack of coordination and communication, where no deadline was fixed and no effective supervision done. Even the building could not be handed over by the construction agency. Toilets are not done yet, roofs are leaking, dining facilities are not yet ready. 

Worst of all, the alternative power source is yet to be installed. Such was the hurry. The unfortunate workers need to take a long walk of 10 minutes to go for lunch or to use the toilet. If it rains, they are at the mercy of the weather and will get drenched. 

This is what happens when there is a lack of transparency at the decision-making level, as well as when there is poor communication between the floor workers, floor-level managers, and the decision-makers. 

Stakeholders are kept in the dark regarding such major works, which affects everybody.  They are not consulted and given a role to play in vital issues involving their working environment. 

We may talk a lot about artificial intelligence, blockchain, the fourth Industrial Revolution and so on, but unless we give adequate attention to such basic but vital issues, sustainability in RMG will remain a far cry. 

Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad (Retd) worked in some prestigious RMG establishments.  

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