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Strict laws, stringent enforcement crucial for RMG factory safety

SINCE the November 24, 2012 fire at Tazreen Fashions Limited, which killed more than 100 workers, and the April 24, 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, which left more than 1,100 people, mostly workers of apparel factories housed in the ill-fated eight-storey building, the export-oriented readymade garments industry in Bangladesh has been under an increasingly intense scrutiny of not only international buyers but also workers’ rights organisations at home and abroad. Subsequently, there have been initiatives towards comprehensive inspection of the apparel factories by both the international buyers and the government with assistance from the International Labour Organisation. Such scrutiny and inspection have unearthed a host of reasons that seem to have essentially encouraged non-compliance with safety standards by many in the apparel industry.
According to a report published in New Age on Friday, experts and labour leaders identified flaws in rules and absence of stringent legal actions against aberrant factories and their owners as two major reasons that essentially encourage many to flout safety standards in the apparel industry. For example, the labour law stipulates Tk 5,000 in fine as the maximum penalty for non-compliance with safety standards in readymade garment factories, which is anything but prohibitive. Moreover, in many cases, the aberrant factories did not bother to pay the fines for their non-compliance and apparently got away with it in the absence of stringent legal actions.
Encouragingly, in the wake of a number of factory disasters, the government seems to have taken strict measures to ensure safety. The chief inspector of factory and establishment is quoted in the report as claiming that cases were filed for non-compliance against 1,683 factories in 2013. Regrettably, however, the penalty for non-compliance being a meagre Tk 5,000, the rising number of cases is unlikely to make any enduring impact on the aberrant factories.
It goes without saying that the laws, rules and regulations on factory safety are generally not stringent or prohibitive enough to make the aberrant factory owners mend their ways. It is, therefore, imperative that these need to be made stringent and the punitive measures stipulated therein prohibitive. At the same, the authorities need to realise that laws, rules and regulations are only as good as their enforcement. Hence, no matter how stringent these are, until and unless strictly enforced, these would unlikely to ensure compliance across the board.

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