Dangerous dithering over RMG factory inspections
IN THE wake of the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza at Savar on April 24, which killed more than 1,100 people and took place within six months of the fire at Tazreen Fashion Limited on November 24, 2012, which left more than 100 people burnt alive, it was expected that the government would strengthen its factory inspection regime in respect of readymade garment manufacturing plans so as to ensure structural integrity and fire safety there. Encouragingly, the international buyers of Bangladeshi apparel products, along with the International Labour Organisation, came forward with technical and financial assistance. Yet, almost five months into the Rana Plaza tragedy, the inspection, which was scheduled to begin on Sunday, could not get under way because, according to a report published in New Age on Sunday, the Economic Relations Division approval for the use of $24 million fund arranged by the ILO had not been secured and common standards for the inspection worked out till Saturday night. The labour secretary blamed the failure to work out the common standards on the delay by Alliance and Accord, two consortiums of North American and European Union retail brands over safety issues, in submitting the list of the supplying factories and the checklist for the inspection, while the ILO country director claimed that the ERD approval had been sought about 10 days ago. It is worth noting here that Alliance and Accord are to inspect about 1,750 factories, with the government covering the rest with assistance of the ILO and 30 expert teams of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
Firming up of the government’s factory inspection regime has been long overdue, to say the least. It is common knowledge that a significant percentage of the apparel factories in Bangladesh operate with very little regard for workplace safety and structural soundness, and have done so for years now. While the Rana Plaza collapse and the Tazreen Fashions fire are two of the deadliest industrial disasters in recent history, they are by no means the only ones to have killed so many apparel workers. Regrettably, however, even the public debate and discourse on industrial safety, especially structural integrity of, and fire safety at, factories have generally proved short-lived, starting in the wake of a fatal building collapse or fire and fading out once the media coverage and accompanied public outcry end. The less said about the efficacy and efficiency of the government’s post-disaster remedial measures, the better. Such episodic public awareness and government action tends to ultimately betray indifference of the society in general and the state in particular to the well-being of the working class.
One might have expected the Rana Plaza tragedy to trigger substantial change in the action and attitude of the government and also apparel factory owners in respect of industrial safety. The foot-dragging over the structural integrity and fire safety inspections certainly puts paid to such expectations. Suffice to say, such dithering amounts to courtship with calamity and could lead to yet another major disaster in the apparel sector. Hence, it is imperative that the government should show urgency in getting the inspection under way as soon as possible.
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