Bangladesh Factory Inspections to Start in September

Inspections are due to begin next month on at least 2,000 garment factories in Bangladesh that are not already part of two separate initiatives by retailers and brands in Europe and North America to audit all their supplier factories in the country.

The government-led National Tripartite Action Plan on Building and Fire Safety, which is working with employer and worker groups and the International Labor Organization (ILO), says teams led by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) will undertake the assessments.

There are also plans to set out a national standard for fire safety and structural assessments as a benchmark for all audits to meet.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has pledged to share documents related to factory design and layout with the Committee — which will also share the national standards with all relevant stakeholders at a workshop on September 7.

The National Tripartite Committee was set up in response to the fire at Tazreen Fashion last November and the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in April — which between them led to the loss of more than 1,200 lives.

It is hoped that the measures will lead to the U.S. reinstating GSP tariff benefits to Bangladesh, after these were withdrawn in June over concerns about its serious shortcomings in worker rights and workplace safety standards.

However, a preliminary inspection report on 70 ready-made garment units found just six to be in sound condition — illustrating the unique size of the task facing Bangladesh as it tries to rebuild its reputation on the global stage.

There are also concerns that Bangladesh’s Ministry of Labor is struggling to recruit the 200 factory inspectors it requires.

The ILO says just four inspectors have been recruited so far, with another 72 due to be on board by October. The recruitment process for another 128 inspectors will begin in November.

Separate schemes are also underway by the [North American] Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety with its Bangladesh Worker Safety Initiative, and the [European] Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh — which between them intend to examine at least 1,500 factories.

They will also offer funds and assistance with remedial action — including the relocation and rebuilding of unsafe factories — and have set a timeframe to see all their supplier factories inspected within the next nine months to one-year.

However, speaking to just-style at the beginning of August, Jenny Holdcroft, policy director at the IndustriAll global union, which is coordinating the Accord efforts, admitted progress is slow.

Everything from establishing how many factories need to be inspected, to setting up offices and recruiting staff, “will probably take longer than we would like,” she said.

With all these various initiatives taking place, another issue is that of overlapping audits.

Speaking to just-style at the beginning of August, Jenny Holdcroft, policy director at the IndustriAll global union, which is co-ordinating the Accord efforts, said all parties are working together to ensure duplication doesn’t occur.

“The Accord will carry out inspections for the factories that are supplying to the signatories,” she explained, adding that the tripartite initiative would focus on the non-Accord [and non-Alliance] factories.

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