Published: Sunday, June 2, 2013

A day out to find factory flaws

Young Pinky was engrossed in stitching jeans on her workstation when a team led by Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddique walked in yesterday morning to the premises of Apparel Industry Ltd.
Her workstation, from where she was manufacturing wares for the American kidswear label OshKosh B’gosh, was an electric sewing machine — with wires cascading from the ceiling.
In fact, loose wires were spilling out of the entire ceiling, which would be at best one and a half yards away from her and her coworkers’ heads. Rules, however, say all electric wires must be concealed.
Looking around, it came to notice that Pinky sat just beside the column holding the fire extinguisher. When asked if she could use it, Pinky nodded in the negative. But fire officials recommend that employees with the knowledge to handle the device should sit next to it.
The factory, which sits with three others in the same building on New Airport Road, was cramped to its limit with sewing machines.
This was the first visit by Siddique and his team, formed by the government amid public outcry following the fatal Rana Plaza collapse that killed 1,130.
Most of the observations ended up on the wrong side of their checklist, designed to gauge the workplace conditions of the country’s 5,000 garment factories.
The checklist contains 69 questions in four categories — structural soundness of the building, fire safety, electric safety preparation and issues that are related to workers’ rights and welfare.
The minister stayed for a short while with the workers, many of whom were adolescents. Then out went the minister to visit another factory.
But some officials accompanying him stayed behind for more details.
The second factory visited by Siddique yesterday was Eve Garments Ltd at Gulshan-1, where a metal emergency staircase was mounted outside. But the walkway of the staircase was narrow and it started wobbling when more than one person took to it.
“We have served notice on the factory management asking for the structural layout of the factory and rectify other flaws,” an inspector of the Dhaka office of the Department of Chief Inspector of Factories and Establishments said, seeking to remain unnamed.
Nurul Abrar, director of Eve Garments, said the factory inspectors did not inform him earlier that the emergency exit was vulnerable.
“If they ask us to fix it, we will do it without waiting for our landlord to do it,” he said, adding that his company is working on complying with the directives of factory inspection office.
After visiting the three factories yesterday, Siddique declined to make any comment about their compliance status. “This is a sample test. We are not going for any regulatory action. It is for addressing the weaknesses.”
Asked why in his capacity as the textiles minister he was visiting factories for the first time in four and a half years in office, Siddique declined to comment.
Each of his 11 teams would visit 10 factories in the next few days and report to the government in three months’ time, he said adding that the government “sincerely” wants to solve the problems in the garment industry.
Contacted later, Ashraf Ali Khan, managing director of Apparel Industry Ltd, admitted that the factory fell short of compliance.
“It is an old building, and ours is a semi-compliant factory,” he said, adding that electric wires will be covered as necessary materials have been purchased.
He also admitted that there were some adolescents in his factory, who were hired to meet deadlines in face of worker shortage. “Sometimes, workers come with certificates which say they are at least 18 years old,” he added.
Khan, however, denied that Apparel Industry Ltd was working on orders for OshKosh B’gosh. “We are actually developing some samples to lure them in.”
Aminul Islam, manager of Apparel Industry, claimed they have a team of trained workers who can operate fire extinguishers.