Economy

Inspectors Find 80,000 Safety Violations At Bangladesh Garment Factories

CREDIT: AP/Wong Maye-E

The collapsed Rana Plaza factory in Bangaldesh

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement between more than 180 global garment companies and Bangladeshi trade unions formed after more than 1,000 workers died in a factory collapse in April 2013, has completed all the initial inspections of 1,106 garment factories it has set out to do by the end of September, it announced on Tuesday. More than 1,500 factories are covered by the agreement.

It found safety hazards in all of them, although Brad Loewen, the Accord’s chief safety inspector, said that “was to be expected.” He added, “The Accord team is now working intensively with factory owners, brands, and labour colleagues to ensure the safety findings are corrected.” The inspections identified more than 80,000 safety issues, ranging from the need to reduce weight loads to a failure to install fire doors and alarms, the failure to have protected fire exits, and the need to strengthen building columns.

Worse, in 17 inspections the structural integrity of the buildings was found to be below an acceptable level, leading the Accord to recommend a temporary evacuation. In another 110, it found that immediate actions were needed to bring the factories up to acceptable safety levels before workers could continue to work inside. All the other factories have been allowed to carry out production while the safety issues are resolved.

Out of the 1,106 inspections, more than 400 Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) have been agreed to by the factories and approved by the Accord. “The CAPs are paramount to this as they provide the remedial measures which must be taken to ensure an acceptably safe working environment,” Loewen said.

The Accord’s next phase is to “focus on the implementation and monitoring of the corrective action plans,” said Alan Roberts, the Accord’s executive director international operations, as well as rolling out working training programs and factory safety and health committees.

More than 300 factories that the Accord inspected are also covered by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a less legally binding plan led by American companies like Walmart and Gap, who have refused to sign onto the Accord. The Accord says it’s working with the Alliance to get their inspection reports and to implement its own corrective action plans and remediation requirements. Walmart’s preliminary inspections found that more than 15 percent of the factories failed safety standards.

American companies have also refused to contribute to the $40 million compensation fund set up by Bangladeshi officials, labor groups, and European retailers for the families of the victims and injured employees. Those funds, however, have been slow to trickle out, and when people protested in the streets to get them moving faster, they were met with police violence.

After the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, the Bangladeshi government made other promises, such as a higher minimum wage and a greater ability for workers to form a union. While it raised the minimum wage by 77 percent, to $66 a month, it still left them the lowest paid in the world. Workers have instead called for $102, but they have similarly been met with police violence for protesting for higher wages. Workers who are trying to unionize have also been met with bribery and violence.

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