Many readymade garment factories still maintain collapsible gates and other lockable features at their exits, posing a high risk to the lives of workers in the case of any emergency situation like fire incident.
RMG sector leaders and the government officials concerned admitted that despite warnings from the government and global buyers, a section of RMG factory owners had yet to ensure safety of the workers by removing collapsible gates and lockable features.
But the government officials and the leaders of the apparel sectors said they do not know the actual number of the defaulting factories.
Labour leaders in the RMG sector said that many factories including the supplier factories of renowned global brands were still retaining lockable features at their exits.
Following the tragic fire incident in Dhaka’s Tazreen Fashions in November 24, 2012 that killed 114 RMG workers, national and international rights groups and global buyers raised concern over the collapsible gates and other lockable features at the exits of the RMG factories.
In the case of the Tazreen Fashions fire, the exits were locked during the fire and the highest number of workers burnt to death on the floors of the RMG unit.
After the incident, the government issued a notification in January 2013 asking the RMG factory owners to remove collapsible gates from the exits of their units and to install sliding or other gates by February 10, 2013.
The notification said the incidents of deaths and injuries of the garment workers marked a sharp rise for the use of collapsible gates in the factories and keeping those under key and lock during working hours.
Though the government warned of stern action against the factories in which exit gates would be found locked, most of the factories did not comply with the government notification.
Later, more than 1,100 people, mostly garment workers, lost their lives in the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 24, 2013. After the incident, western buyers formed two separate consortiums undertaking a five-year plan which set timeframes and accountability for safety inspections and training and workers’ empowerment programmes in the Bangladesh RMG sector.
The forums of western apparel brands and retailers also urged the factory owners to remove collapsible gates and threatened to cut business relations with their Bangladeshi supplier factories in which collapsible gates at exits would exist.
Recently, Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the platform of North American buyers, suspended five factories from its supplier list due to the existence of lockable gates at the exits of the factories.
Existence of locking features and collapsible gates was one of the reasons for which Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the platform of European brands and buyers, terminated business ties with a number of factories in Bangladesh.
‘Most of the Accord and Alliance supplier factories removed locking features and collapsible gates from their exits but most of the factories inspected under a national initiative are still maintaining collapsible gates,’ Mahmud Hasan Khan Babu, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told New Age.
He said the number of the factories under the national initiative is around 1,500 and they account for 40 per cent of the total active members of the BGMEA.
Syed Ahmed, inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment, said that the factory owners were still maintaining collapsible gates at the factory exits but the number was decreasing.
‘In some cases, factory owners are reluctant to remove lockable features from the exits but we are putting pressure to ensure safe exit for the workers. But, I do not know the actual number of the RMG factories which are maintaining lockable features at their exits now,’ he said.
Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, said that collapsible gates still existed in many RMG factories and that was unacceptable.
There are collapsible gates and other lockable features at exits at some factories which make products for global renowned brands and buyers, he said.
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