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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs