Workers at more than 3,000 subcontracting readymade garment factories in Bangladesh have been working under dangerous conditions five years after Rana Plaza collapse as the factories still lack safety measures, according to a recent study of New York University.
The study titled ‘Five Years After Rana Plaza: The Way Forward’ conducted by the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights estimates that there are more than 3,000 subcontracting factories in the country and it will take $1.2 billion to remediate major life-threatening safety concerns in the units.
The report also says that there are more than 7,000 RMG factories across the country, of which 4,000 are covered by safety initiatives of two global buyers’ platforms and the government.
But the three initiatives still leave out a very large number of additional factories and their workers, it says.
According to the report, many of the left-out factories primarily do subcontracting work for export, or a combination of production for the local and global markets, and thus do not have direct relationships with the large Western buyers.
Both the government and the country’s apparel exporters, however, have expressed their disagreements over the number of factories and subcontracting issues.
The NYU Stern Center proposed $1.2 billion ‘shared responsibility’ model in which the government of Bangladesh and local suppliers will invite Western governments, brands and retailers, the World Bank and foundations to participate in a task force that will undertake a census of factories, assess the financial costs of fixing safety gaps and contribute to a fund to help meet this need.
‘Western consumers are the beneficiaries of the cheap clothes produced in Bangladesh. Therefore, it is incumbent on Western brands and retailers, as well as Western governments, to step up to the plate,’ the report observes.
Moinuddin Ahmed, acting president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told New Age that the number of export-oriented garment factories was much lower than the number said in the report.
He claimed that almost all the garment factories were under the safety initiatives of buyers and the government and very few, which were already closed, were out of initiatives.
‘Most probably the garment manufacturers for local market have been counted in the number but the BGMEA is not responsible for the factories as they are not its members,’ Moinuddin noted.
Md Shamsuzzaman Bhuiyan, inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, also differed with the statistics of the study.
He claimed that highest 600 factories were out of safety inspection and the government already took initiative to bring the units under monitoring.
Shamsuzzaman, however, went to add that they were not considering the establishments as factories as they were supplying the local market only.
Comparing various databases, the NYU Stern Center has calculated the total number of RMG factories to be 7,000 as the government has not done any such census.
To calculate the number of subcontracting factories, the NYU Stern Center subtracted the sum of Accord/Alliance and National Initiative factories (4000) from the total number of factories.
It estimates remediation value at $413 million for the 1,650 national initiative factories while $750 million for 3,000 subcontracting factories.
‘In an ideal world, the Bangladeshi government would competently oversee the entire industry, without need of foreign intervention. The world, of course, is not ideal, and the government has not done its job vigorously. Known as the National Initiative, the government’s regulatory apparatus
for garment manufacturing has worked since Rana Plaza in cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO). Still, progress has been slow; information disclosures, sparse and sometimes inconsistent,’ the report continues.
It says that though the government and BGMEA claim that there is no unauthorised subcontracting in the country, the practice continues and shows no sign of disappearing.
The report finds that many small factories produce mostly for the domestic market and occasionally pick up subcontracting work from exporters.
The BGMEA acting president said that the member factories of the trade body were not engaged in any unauthorised subcontracting.
After the Rana Plaza building collapse in April 24, 2013, that killed more than 1,100 people, mostly garments workers, EU retailers formed Accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh while North American brands formed Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety undertaking a five-year plan, which set timeframes and accountability for inspections and training and workers empowerment programmes.
The two platforms conducted safety inspection in some 2300 RMG factories.
At the same time, the government under the support of ILO conducted safety inspection in 1,490 factories.
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