News / Asia

Inspections of Bangladesh’s Garment Factories Identify Safety Gaps

Locals and fire-fighters try to control a fire at a garment factory in Dhaka, March 6, 2014.
Locals and fire-fighters try to control a fire at a garment factory in Dhaka, March 6, 2014.
Anjana Pasricha
— International inspections of Bangladesh's garment factories have identified safety gaps that have led to the closure of two factories.  The inspections, sponsored by Western retailers, aim at improving safety standards in the world’s primary clothing supplier, where last year’s deadly building collapse highlighted dismal working conditions.

The preliminary rounds of rigorous structural, fire and electrical inspections by engineering teams have focused on the most vulnerable buildings housing garment factories in and around Dhaka.
 
Buildings, range of problems

The inspectors found a range of problems.  Among them: overloaded ceilings, unauthorized floors, not enough fire alarms, and electrical wiring that could be a hazard. Brad Loewen, chief safety inspector of the Bangladesh Accord Foundation says fire exits at many establishments failed to meet safety standards.
 
“Lockable gates across exits are not allowed, they have to be removed, that was often found. The exits there need to be separated from the rest of the building so that they are safe in case of a fire,” Loewen said. 
                         
The Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety has been sponsored by over 150 clothing brands from about 20 countries. It was signed in the wake of two disasters that led many to question whether some of the factories that churn out clothes for Western customers are death traps.
 
FILE - A view of rescue workers attempting to find survivors from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar April 30, 2013.FILE - A view of rescue workers attempting to find survivors from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar April 30, 2013.
x
FILE - A view of rescue workers attempting to find survivors from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar April 30, 2013.
FILE - A view of rescue workers attempting to find survivors from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar April 30, 2013.
Last April, Rana Plaza, an eight story building housing garment factories collapsed, killing over 1100 people. It was the world’s deadliest garment factory accident and came five months after a blaze swept through another garment factory killing 112 workers.    
 
The inspectors face a daunting task. Bangladesh has more than 5000 factories, many housed in old buildings. Some 38 teams of international engineers will inspect 1500 factories by September.
 
So far the focus has been identifying necessary repairs and renovations in problem factories. But at least two factories housed in adjoining buildings were considered too unsafe for workers and were temporarily shut down last week, causing more than 3000 workers to be laid off.
 
One reopened after two days, the other remains shut. The inspectors identified structural problems in one of the buildings.
 
Keeping doors shut

The closures raised concerns in the garment industry. Rubana Huq is managing director of the Mohammadi Group, one of Bangladesh’s large garment exporters. She said there are no quick fixes to the problems and the issues involved have to be dealt with patiently.
 
“Whether an immediate evacuation was necessary is the question. Overnight closures are absolutely not desirable, it is not a great thing to be happening to the industry or the vendors. It gives out very mixed signals to the world, as it is we are suffering from an image deficit here,” she stated.
 
Rapid growth in Bangladesh’s $22 billion garment industry led factories in Dhaka and its suburbs to expand at a frenzied pace. While some of the bigger factories are modern, many makeshift factories have expanded in old buildings or residential premises. In a megacity where land costs have been on the rise, some factories have added additional floors, at times illegally.   
 
Huq said that while fire safety is a critical concern that needs to be addressed, factory owners need to be given time to address other issues.   
 
“We are not going to overnight grow buildings out of nothing with fully automated hydrant systems and sprinklers and everything. Many of the buildings are old, so we need to be careful about structural integrity," Huq noted. "Fire is going to be the issue and not the structural integrity. Buildings don’t just collapse.”
 
Raising standards, cost

There are also concerns that the expense of renovation will add to the cost of doing business in an industry with thin profit margins. The industry has also recently implemented a higher wage for garment workers, whose salaries are among the lowest in the world.
 
Mustafizur Rahman is executive director at Dhaka’s Center for Policy Dialogue, which has conducted studies of the garment industry. He said a revamp of the sector is necessary. “Relocation, renovation, substantive reconstruction, all this require substantive investment. So those factories which will undertake this will be adversely affected," he said. "But overall there is an appreciation that Bangladesh factories will have to have a zero tolerance in this regard, otherwise buyers will move away gradually.”
 
Brad Loewen and other members of the Bangladesh Accord will spend five years in Bangladesh conducting the inspections and also focusing on improving other working conditions for garment workers.
 
Loewen said he is optimistic that positive changes can be brought about without hurting a critical industry for Bangladesh’s economy.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid