Vol. 5 Num 64 Fri. July 30, 2004  

Kudos to BGMEA, but no room for complacency

Garment manufacturing in Bangladesh has been a silent revolution. That has been said before.

Garment manufacturing has provided mainly our women workers and their families with economic security and hope, despite the occasional gender-based harassment and need to do more in terms of better workplace precautions and protection. That you have heard before.

Garment manufacturing and exporting have bided well for many entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. That is evident from expansion and linkage projects.

This sector has portrayed a vastly positive image of this country abroad. That has been written about.

These fountains of social expectation and financial refuge have ironically been the cause of tragedy and despair for many due to rampant fire accidents particularly in the 1990s. That has also been widely reported.

What has hitherto not been given wide publicity is the unified effort of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) in making the factories safer from fire incidents. For the sake of our workers and in keeping with the demands of the international community we need to make factories, not only those manufacturing garments, safer work places.

In our story today, Anisur Rahman reports on the improved track record of a sector that was beleaguered in the face of several fatal accidents, most of which appeared to have been avoidable.

While the focus of BGMEA has been 'fire' for obvious reasons, they must also give due attention to other aspects health and safety at work places. These will include moving machinery, handling materials, heat appliances, physical facilities, light and ventilation, and services. In fact, every sector dealing with work, be it textiles, jute, tea, construction, shipyards, even television broadcasting, for example, must take structured measures, if need be, executed in phases, to make the work environment safer and thereby more productive.

What the BGMEA, or for that matter any other of the associations, we are certain will not do is bask in the satisfaction that a reduction in fire accidents is the fulfilment of their responsibilities. Work places by and large are still congested, ill-planned, illegally set up in unauthorised buildings, dark and badly lit, hot and humid, unventilated, without proper rest rooms, canteen and crèche (Factories Act 1965), and generally unsafe (for instance, electricity, boiler, handrail lacking in staircases and roof tops where workers have their lunch).

It has been said many a time, much has been written on it, but we cannot emphasise any more on a cliché without repeating: Much more needs to be done.

The author is Professor, Dept. of Architecture, BUET and Consultant to the Editor on Urban Issues