After the recent safety incidents in Bangladeshi textile facilities we asked Mostafiz Uddin, owner/managing director of the garment production company Denim Expert Ltd. in Chittagong and CEO of Dhaka-based denim trade show Bangladesh Denim Expo, to comment on the matter.
‘Bangladesh has been producing ready-made garment for the past 35 years and we have many achievements to feel proud of. But we have a number of challenges and drawbacks hurting our progress and tarnishing the image of the country. Of course the Tajreen fire and Rana Plaza building collapse are the most unfortunate incidents in the history of our industrialization, but we have taken unprecedented steps to reform the whole industry to ensure proper workplace safety and environment in our factories. But the nightmare seems not to be over as the latest incident of boiler explosion struck in Multifab factory in Gazipur.
Apparently it’s like living with a timebomb waiting to explode: loss of lives, flashing in media and critics spicing up around. There are numbers of reports online showing how many industrial accidents and fires happened in the garment industry in Bangladesh including the Spectra building collapse. When the Tazreen Fashions fire severed more than hundred lives in 2012 I could not stop myself but taking a move in communicating all within my reach to seriously think about all potential safety aspects, risk factors and preparedness in our factories. I know I can’t do anything to those who lost their lives and beloved ones, but I thought I can at least do something out of my position. My e-mail reached to a few thousand people who are factory owners, buyers and professionals within this industry urging all to seriously think about a few issues –
- Consider workplace safety more holistically, dynamically and inclusively rather than fighting individual issues.
- Prevention rather than cure.
- Consider the importance of BUILDING SAFETY since Bangladesh is vulnerable to large-scale earthquakes.
Being an ordinary person if I can realize the importance of building safety in the industry before the Rana Plaza collapsed, why cannot the authorities and stakeholders, the movers and shakers of the industry forecast such dangers? Is there any lack of foresightedness or lack of optimism or is it simply because we love to be reactive? I recall after the Tazreen fire incident the government and all stakeholders jointly adopted the National Tripartite Plan of Action (NTPoA) covering fire and electrical safety. However, with the collapse of Rana Plaza within five months of Tazreen fire, the realization of building and structural safety could secure its importance in our safety agenda under the national and private sector led safety initiatives at the cost of more than thousand lives, why not earlier? Who will take responsibility of all these lives? Until 3 July 2017 we never paid any attention on the seriousness of boiler safety which we could only realize at the cost of 13 lives in Multifab? The three safety initiatives already inspected 3,780 factories, 39 of them were found risky and we immediately closed down. 79% safety issues in Alliance factories and 77% safety issues in Accord factories have been remediated. All inspection reports are publicly available at the website of Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment (DIFE), Accord and Alliance. It is estimated by the industry associations and authorities that by the middle of 2018 all remediation tasks of the ACCORD and Alliance listed factories will be completed. After all these accomplishment, the question someone can raise is “are we waiting for the next bad news any moment in a new shape and dimension?” Probably YES, as the trend says so.
After the formation of ACCORD and ALLIANCE and the Government led ILO supported initiative our factories welcomed to accept any changes, remediation required to ensure safety. Without any external assistance in terms of funding, our factories invested millions of dollars for remediation so far. As a result so far 77% of ACCORD factories and 79% of ALLIANCE factories have completed their remediation activities, and a number of 159 factories have fully remediated themselves. Now as the boiler safety issue is revealed as a potent threat to industry, the industry would need to go through another round of audits and remediation. But would this still make it all inclusive to ensure things will not go wrong in some other form? What about generator, elevator and gas pipeline safety? In fact the Multifab factory was also audited and certified by BSCI. We have to face so many audits by buyer nominated third party audit firms, and each audit program differs from another. The question is - if the purpose of all these audits is common i.e. to ensure proper working condition and well being of the workers, why they cannot be unified, whose interest do they serve being diverse? Other questions that become relevant are - how to ensure the mid-level management is capable and performing their jobs righteously? What about safety of any other issues remain unknown which is the job of concerned authorities to reveal? Why only the industry has to shoulder the blame and the burden? Can we expect an end to this death row at any cost?
Enough is enough. We cannot wait to see further disaster taking place. The industry is not in a good shape currently as export growth has gone lowest in 15 years. If we let such accidents happened and let go, we have to worry about future of this industry. So let us seriously think over –
- Establish urgently a Workplace Safety Commission with a prior step to prepare an exhaustive list of unidentified safety risks.
- Do more unannounced audit in health and safety issue
- Stop commercializing safety in the name of audits and inspections. Bring transparency in the auditing systems.
Stop moaning, let’s be proactive.’