The programme would focus on minimising the threat of fire and building collapse in apparel factories and ensure workers’ rights and safety.
Under the project titled ‘Improving working conditions in the readymade garment sector’, experts led by Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, would conduct building and fire safety assessment in around 1,500 RMG factories.
The Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK and the Netherlands are funding the three-and-a-half year project.
However, this will remain out of the purview of two other initiatives of the US and European retailers.
Canada will also take part as a donor to the project, which was initiated in response to a number of industrial accidents in the RMG sector, including the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1,132 workers in April this year.
Prior to launching the project, an agreement was signed among the Bangladesh government, ILO, DFID and Netherlands at Ruposhi Bangla hotel yesterday.
Abul Kalam Azad, secretary to the Economic Relations Division, Gerben Sjoerd de Jong, Netherlands ambassador, Robert Winnington Gibson, British high commissioner, and Srinivas B Reddy, ILO country officer, signed the agreement on behalf of their sides.
Addressing the function, Finance Minister AMA Muhith said tragic accidents at the factories are definitely not acceptable.
“For quite some time we have been looking at building safety, fire fighting facilities, easy and safe exits in the factories. For better working conditions, we have been promoting housing colonies and schools for the children of garment workers.”
“With the support of our development partners we have eliminated child labour from this sector. But it must be admitted that despite such measures, there are deficiencies in the inspection of factories and enforcement of safety and welfare measures,” the minister said.
The finance minister said a safe work environment contributes to lowering the accident rate, which in turn benefits business and earns the sector a good reputation.
Making a brief presentation on the project, Reddy of the ILO said there are five components — building and fire safety assessment, labour inspection system and support for fire and building inspection, occupational safety and health awareness, rehabilitation and skill training for victims, and better work programmes.
ILO Deputy Director General for Field Operations and Partnerships Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo said this programme will provide support in implementing the National Tripartite Plan of Action on fire safety and structural integrity.
“Successful implementation of the programme will ensure better working conditions and safety for the garment workers in Bangladesh,” he said.
The Netherlands ambassador said Rana Plaza and Tazreen became a symbol of what is wrong in the sector. “The image of the sector is shattered. It would not be restored overnight.”
Now Bangladesh, supported by the international community, has the chance to get it right, he said. “The Netherlands supports this ILO programme because it contains all the crucial elements to make the garments sector safe and sustainable. For us, this is a perfect example of using aid to promote responsible trade.”
He said there is no guarantee that there will not be any new fire or building collapse. “But with this programme, all parties are committed to do their utmost to prevent new disasters and have measures in place.”
Labour and Employment Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and Labour and Employment Secretary Mikail Shipar also spoke.