There Are Not Enough Safety Inspectors In Bangladesh To Cover Its Factories

Photo via the AP

The number of garment factories in Bangladesh vastly outnumbers the number of inspectors working to ensure the safety of the buildings after a deadly collapse in April, the New York Times reports. There has been a rush toward factory inspections after the Rana Plaza building collapsed and killed 1,127 people.

The capitol city of Dhaka, where the factory collapsed, is estimated to have between 1,500 and 2,000 garment factories, with 8,000 buildings overall that lack the required approvals or have violated construction codes. There are about 5,000 factories in the country overall.

Yet Dhaka’s development authority, which regulates the buildings and is known as Rajuk, only has 40 inspectors, who oversee millions of structures. There are plans to expand to 240 inspectors, but the chief engineer, Mohammed Emdadul Islam, says that will be insufficient and calls the task “impossible.”

The Bangladesh government has also leaned on 30 professors at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology who are experts in structural and geophysical engineering to do inspections. But their numbers are small and they still have to continue their teaching duties. Mohammed Mujibur Rahman, chairman of the civil engineering department, warned that the university, “as an institution, doesn’t have that capacity” to inspect all of the factories. Their team has so far assessed about 100 buildings, 66 of which contained one or more garment factories.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufactures and Exporters Association, an industry trade group, has also hired a staff of 10 engineers and has announced that 19 factories had been closed during inspections. Companies themselves have also been inspecting factories. Yet given the thousands of buildings, there are not nearly enough inspectors on the ground to cover all of them.

The university’s engineering team previously announced that as it has conducted inspections, three-fifths of the buildings have been found vulnerable to collapse.

The Rana Plaza collapse has been officially attributed to “extremely” poor quality building materials and violations of building regulations. Workers spotted cracks in the building days before but were still told to go in and work.

At least eight major retailors that source garments from the country, including H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the owner of Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Izod, have signed onto a legally binding factory safety upgrade plan. Meanwhile, many American companies, including most prominently Walmart and Gap, have refused to sign the agreement, instead coming up with their own plan. The details of their plan recently emerged, which would not be legally binding and include a $50 million five-year fund to go toward improving safety conditions. That money is contingent on accountability for safety improvements from the Bangladesh government.

The cost of upgrading the country’s facilities has been estimated at $3 billion. Yet if the entire cost were passed on to consumers, they would only pay about 10 cents more per garment.