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Thursday, November 29, 2012
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Costly neglect

Govt sits 11 years on HC directive to ensure garment workers' safety; BGMEA unaware of it; top buyers too dodge global initiative for safety

The government has yet to move to form a national committee to ensure workers' safety in garment industries more than 11 years after the High Court directed it to make sure that all apparel plants comply with safety regulations.

Even an effort from workers and non-governmental organisations to ensure fire safety in factories failed to see any progress due to reservations of foreign buyers of Bangladeshi garments.

Workers and local and foreign NGOs proposed a pilot fire-safety programme for garment factories after a major fire accident killed 29 workers at Spectrum factory near Dhaka in 2010. But the initiative is yet to make headway.

Serious lapses in safety measures led to yet another devastating fire at a garment factory in Ashulia on November 24. At least 111 workers were killed in the blaze at Tazreen Fashions.

Sultana Kamal, a leading legal and human rights activist, was shocked to see another fire accident in a relatively new factory.

“The factory [Tazreen Fashions] doesn't have alternative staircases and fire exits. How did the factory get the permission to operate,” asked Sultana, executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK).

The HC directive to ensure workers' safety in factories came in 2001 after ASK filed a writ petition in 1997 over a fire accident that killed at least 24 people at a factory in Mirpur.

The human rights organisation also filed three writ petitions, including one linked with the fire at Tazreen Fashions, demanding punishment of the people responsible.

Sultana believes that the government's lax attitude towards workers' safety has allowed recurrence of such incidents in garment factories.

She said the government's negligence in complying with the HC directive is unforgivable.

Had the culprits been punished, this type of accidents would have not happened, she said.

In its 2001 verdict, the HC asked the government to form a national committee to supervise the setting up of garment factories and their operation to make sure that they comply with the rules and regulations.

The court also directed Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) to provide the committee with office space and staff.

BGMEA, however, said it had been unaware about the HC order on setting up of the committee.

“It was the government, not BGMEA, which was supposed to act on the HC directives on the committee's formation,” said BGMEA Vice President Siddiqur Rahman.

The initiative from workers and NGOs for a fire-safety programme in garment factories was dealt a blow as some big foreign brands preferred to go with their own fire-safety initiatives with Bangladeshi suppliers.

The safety programme to be financed by participating companies proposes an independent oversight committee that would include representatives from unions and the apparel industry.

The committee would select a fire inspection chief who would inspect participating factories and make binding recommendations. And workers would receive safety training.

“But the programme has yet to get off the ground, with some big foreign brands preferring to set up their own fire-safety initiatives with Bangladeshi suppliers,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

PVH Corp that owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein and several other brands agreed in March to join the fire safety programme. Germany's Tchibo GmbH also decided to join it in September.

But US-based Gap Inc declined to join the programme in September saying it would go with its own fire safety programme. The US company's decision was harshly criticised by the Clean Clothes Campaign.

“These brands have known for years that many of the factories they choose to work with are death traps. Their failure to take action amounts to criminal negligence,” Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign told the International Herald Tribune, speaking of leading international companies that buy apparel from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh that earns 80 percent of its total exports from the garment sector makes headlines in the global media at times for deadly fires in garment factories.

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Bangladesh is increasingly attracting the attention of garment buyers from developed countries. This is mainly due to the competitive edge that Bangladesh enjoys in its manufacture. Of the various component factors of production; the lower cost of labor productivity makes the major difference. Wages are in fact the lowest in South Asia. Moreover, factories are lax in the observance of statutory rules and regulations to minimize capital expenditure, both fixed and working. It is only by compromising with labor and safety standards that we are able to push through our products internationally. Furthermore, BGMEA and BKMEA have emerged as monopolistic apex bodies that regulate and negotiate skillfully both with the government and the labor representatives and are able to convince the foreign buyers in the matter of compliance. It reminds me of the jute mill scenario during undivided India where Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA) worked in similar fashion. But then the trade unions in colonial times were strong, ILO was extremely vigilant, and the nationalist politicians took active interest in labor welfare. Thus the workers got a comparatively better deal than industries located outside bigger cities like Calcutta, say in the tea estates or the collieries. Very unfortunately, even compared to colonial times, Bangladesh does not allow trade unions to operate in RMG sector; neither is government enthusiastic about labor matters, nor do politicians taking any positive interest. The disinterest in labor matters may be the reflection of high percentage of businessmen in Parliament and due also to RMG sector’s contribution to election funds. Under the circumstances, the pressure of ILO, EU, USA and other large stake holders to comply with international standards of safety and payment of wages is unavoidable-rather is highly desirable.

: Dr. Iftikhar-ul-Awwal, DU

Bangladesh has a very peculiar government. It has is own programme of objectives which may not coincide with the national objective. It has always been busy with its own objectives. National objectives have been neglected most of the times. People should find out what their objectives are and question the government on them.

: Anonymous

Comments

  • Ahmed Badruzzaman
    Thursday, November 29, 2012 01:29 AM GMT+06:00 (103 weeks ago)

    This is an age-old story of the poor and the weak labor paying, sometimes with their lives, for industrial growth. That is why a strong labor movement, a caring government with strong regulatory regime, and an effective judiciary are needed. Bangladesh has a long way to go. As for industries self-regulating, it is a myth that the country should not fall for.

  • Roni Rahman
    Thursday, November 29, 2012 01:34 AM GMT+06:00 (103 weeks ago)

    It is the govt who is mainly to blame and should be held accountable for failing to check/ensure fire/working environment safety regulations in regular intervals. Over the past years we've had many tragic incidents and tons of people have lost lives while owners and govt ministers have gotten richer and richer. How many more lives will it take to provide the minimum safety to workers on whose labor they reap millions of dollars? Sue the minister and the regulators. Only then the govt will force the private industry to do the necessary safety measures.

  • Salam
    Thursday, November 29, 2012 04:26 AM GMT+06:00 (103 weeks ago)

    Let us assume for a moment that it was really a conspiracy, as propagated by none other than the PM, along with other minister and BGMEA. Then we have to admit this conspiracy started long time ago when the factory building was built with no exits for emergency situation. Between the tragic accident and then, a long time passed. When there existed a very tangible and physical evidence of conspiracy, like the factory building with no emergency exit, why no attempt was made for such a long time to foil this conspiracy? Can anyone answer this?

  • barkat
    Thursday, November 29, 2012 04:35 AM GMT+06:00 (103 weeks ago)

    Majority of the Garments workers and the people of Bangladesh believe that no real action will be taken against real culprits. But let's request the International Buyers to completely boycott and banned import from those companies that don't care for their workers safety. At least the West can do these little gesture towards the very poor garments workers due to whom they are wearing cheap cloths.

  • Harun Rashid
    Thursday, November 29, 2012 08:02 AM GMT+06:00 (103 weeks ago)

    Government, opposition party or other responsible parties are busy always to serve with their own merely personal interest they don't have any time to think others interest or implement HCs direction. For example by the name of court verdicts Government very quickly scraped CG but failed to ensure garment workers safety 11 years! This is the way our beloved country is running. We are just an unfortunate nation!

  • A Patriot
    Thursday, November 29, 2012 10:00 AM GMT+06:00 (103 weeks ago)

    Negligence is the character of the government in Bangladesh. The politicians would rather spend their time for earning money for themselves instead of using their time for the improvement of the country. It has been like that for a long time and will continue to be so. There will be no change. If there is a change that will be for worse, not better.

  • Reaz Hassan
    Thursday, November 29, 2012 10:24 AM GMT+06:00 (103 weeks ago)

    A wholesale restructuring of RMG sector is in order. The mindset of owners represented by BGMEA and BKMEA as well as that of the government needs to alter with fair justice to the men and women attending the machines. Mind that they are the main motive force and without them there will be no production. All the capital land and entrepreneurial skills will go down the drains. If the owners and government decides to settle scores with the law enforcers only and consider workers as spend-able commodities, they are walking in the wrong groove. A high powered Labour Commission is in order with representatives of all the stake holders to suggest ways and means to make the industry viable with special interest to secure the happiness and safety of the working hands. Therein lies the future of the industry.

  • Md. Abir Hossain
    Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:49 AM GMT+06:00 (103 weeks ago)

    Garment workers are the life blood of Bangladesh. Their contribution to our economy is immeasurable and inevitable. The Garment Industry owners should have been aware before happening such an unimaginable incident. No political party have ever showed their interest about the interest of the workers until they were bound. It is high time we thought for our nation builders.

  • Md. Moin uddin
    Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:52 AM GMT+06:00 (103 weeks ago)

    The hypothesis of conspiracy of govt should be stopped without revealing any proof.Rather govt should formulate an intigrated policy to save the souls.


 

 


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