October 26, 2013

Bangladesh garment factories remain uninspected

Six months after a tragic factory collapse, and despite international pledges, safety monitoring has not occurred.

Bloomberg News

NEW DELHI — Six months ago, when more than 1,100 Bangladeshi workers were killed in the collapse of a high-rise warren of garment factories, international outcry led to pledges by western retailers and the government to set up a large-scale inspection regime and a new wage system.

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A woman displays photographs of loved ones on Thursday, the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

The Associated Press

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Today, not a single Bangladeshi garment factory has been inspected under any of the three programs that sprang from those promises, according to officials at the programs. Nor has danger ceased in the $19 billion industry: This month, nine workers died when a fire ripped through a factory in suburban Dhaka that provided material for plants supplying clothing to companies including Wal-Mart Stores.

The Rana Plaza collapse, on April 24, is considered the world’s worst garment factory disaster.

The programs’ slow implementation comes against a backdrop of worker unrest that has stalled production and led to massive street demonstrations over safety conditions and wages, which are set at $39 a month before overtime. One, on Oct. 15, was quelled by the Industrial Police, a rubber-bullet-firing riot force set up two years ago to bring protesting garment workers under control.

“There is no time to lose anymore,” Dutch ambassador Gerben Sjoerd de Jong said Tuesday in announcing a $24.2 million program funded by the Dutch and British governments and the International Labor Organization to support the Bangladeshi government inspections. “The inspections need to begin now.”

The first international staff for an inspections system led by European retailers, called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, arrives next week. The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a group of mostly North American retailers, says the list of the factories its signatories use is ongoing and no inspections staff is in place in the country.

The Bangladeshi government, which will inspect the remaining plants under the Tripartite National Action Plan, hasn’t completed the list of plants that fall under its purview or beefed up staffing for the inspections.

And so far, the three groups have yet to agree upon what a universally acceptable inspection will look like, a delay that De Jong said was holding up the process and endangering workers’ lives. Until then, retailers are conducting their own independent reviews.

An hour-and-a-half drive from Dhaka, in a suburb called Gazipur, the fire-scarred building that burned on Oct. 8 shows the costs of poor working conditions.

By the time the blaze was controlled, nine men had either burned to death or died from smoke inhalation, according to the police. Television footage showed flames shooting out of the roof.

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