No more delay in ensuring effective factory inspection

The apparent unwillingness of owners of about a half the 42,792 factories to get the legally binding registration from the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments is indeed unfortunate. What is more unfortunate is that, according to the DIFE inspector general aa quoted in a New Age report on Sunday, even a DIFE campaign in October 2014 about the issue received a poor response from factory owners. The errant factories, as pointed out in the report, are mostly in about 50 industrial sectors such as jute, pharmaceuticals, ship breaking and building, chemicals and plastic manufacturing, which involve thousands of workers. Factories registered with the DIFE are believed to have, among others, adequate safety and hygiene for workers. DIFE inspectors are also supposed to regularly visit the factories. Overall, workers of the errant factories are vulnerable to whims of the owners when it comes to ensuring their hygiene and safety.
In an apparent effort to deny the responsibility to conduct a serious drive to bring errant factories under their jurisdiction at least soon after the above-mentioned campaign, the DIFE inspector general sought to blame the lack of necessary manpower in the department for the problem. But the reality appears to say something more of the reasons behind it. Allegations have it that like many other public offices, the DIFE has also for long been mired in corruption and irregularities, a situation that may have allowed many factory owners to manage to run entities without making any investment that generally requires a hefty amount for workers’ safety at large. One can recall here that Apcco Bangladesh Limited, the plastic factory in Dhaka city which caught a fire on January 31 leaving 13 people dead, lacked any licence from the DIFE, yet it faced hardly any problem in operating day after day under the nose of the DIFE because the owners allegedly somehow managed the latter.
In fact, it is the general apathy of successive governments towards worker rights particular that is to blame for all this in the first place. It is true that the incumbents have recently taken an initiative to frame a national inspection policy specifying inspectors’ jurisdiction and the area of responsibilities, as well as provisions for authorities to ensure modern, effective and prevention-oriented labour inspection and occupational and workplace safety. But it cannot also be denied that the initiative followed the pressure mounted on them mainly by rights bodies at home and abroad, particularly since the consecutive deadly disasters such as the fire at Tazreen Fashions and the Rana Plaza collapse. Hence, the public pressure needs to continue until there is a tangible difference in the factory inspection situation.

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