AROUND 50 per cent of the readymade garment factories in the country still remain under safety risk as nearly 2,200 units are yet to undergo either any remediation work or safety assessment.
Following the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people, mostly garment workers, European retailers formed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh while North American retailers instituted the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety and the initiatives launched safety inspections at more than 2,300 RMG factories in Bangladesh.
At the same time, the government in association with the International Labour Organisation launched a separate inspection programme for the rest of the garment factories which were not on the lists of the Alliance and the Accord.
The government-ILO initiative completed its initial safety assessment at 1,549 export-oriented readymade garment factories on November 10, 2015 but the initiative has failed to start remediation work at the units in one and a half years.
During the assessment safety inspectors found faults in most of the units and suggested required repairs.
According to the data, safety inspection at about 3,800 RMG factories were conducted under the three initiatives — government-ILO, Accord and Alliance — while the total number of export-oriented RMG units in the country is over 4,500.
More than 700 factories still remain outside the purview of any safety initiative, data showed.
A senior labour ministry official said that they had no immediate plan to conduct safety assessment at the factories which remained outside the purview of the three initiatives.
‘The remediation work at the factories assessed under the national [government-ILO] initiative is yet to be started officially though some of the factory owners have begun fixing some faults at their factories on a small scale,’ Md Shamsuzzaman Bhuiyan, inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, told New Age on Saturday.
He said that lack of finance and willingness of factory owners were the key reasons for not starting remediation work and follow-up inspections at the factories.
Lack of manpower with technical knowledge about remediation is another reason and the DIFE is going to take an initiative to remove the deficiency through hiring engineers under the support of ILO-extended project, Shamsuzzaman said.
He said that the remediation coordination cell would be fully effective from July this year and then the remediation work at the factories under the national initiative would get pace.
According to the DIFE chief, a good number of factories have submitted their respective corrective action plans for the department’s approval and some factories have started remediation work on their own.
According to the data provided by the factory owners, the factories under the national initiative have achieved 21 per cent progress on remediation but it is yet to be verified by the DIFE, Shamsuzzaman said.
He also said that they were working to segregate the factory owners who also own factory buildings.
‘In the month of May we will sit with the owners who own both factories and factory buildings to ask them (owners) to start remediation work at their units soon. If they do not comply with the DIFE instruction, we will request BGMEA or BKMEA to stop issuing utilisation permission to the factories,’ Shamsuzzaman said.
The DIFE would not be ‘harsh’ like the Accord and the Alliance, but, if needed, production would be suspended at the factories which will fail to ensure remediation, he said.
The DIFE chief informed that the ILO had already hired a UK-based company to prepare a remediation standard for the factories under the national initiative so that certification from the government-led initiative is accepted globally.
Md Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said that factory owners had started to contact with the engineering firms listed by the DIFE to start remediation work at their units.
‘The factory owners who want to run their business have no alternative but to complete remediation. I hope all the factories would undergo remediation by 2018,’ he said.
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