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

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs