New $24 Million Safety Package Launched in Bangladesh

The Better Work program was given the go-ahead to begin in Bangladesh, as part of a wider $24.21 million package aimed at improving working conditions in the country’s ready-made garment sector.

The three-and-a-half year initiative — ‘Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector’ (RMGP) — focuses on minimizing the threat of fire and building collapse in ready-made garment factories and on ensuring the rights and safety of workers.

It is being overseen by the International Labor Organization (ILO), and will support the government-led National Tripartite Action Plan on Building and Fire Safety, which was one of several initiatives launched in response to a number of industrial accidents in the sector, including the Rana Plaza building collapse in April in which more than 1,100 workers died.

The U.K. and the Netherlands are jointly contributing $15 million.

“Successful implementation of the program will ensure better working conditions and safety for ready-made garment workers in Bangladesh,” said ILO deputy-director general for field operations and partnerships, Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo.

The new initiative will provide technical support for building and fire safety assessments; strengthen and support labor, fire and building inspections; build occupational safety and health awareness, capacity and systems; and provide rehabilitation and skills training for the victims of the disasters at Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashion (where 112 workers died in a fire in November 2012).

A key part is the launch of Better Work Bangladesh, a joint initiative between the ILO and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), part of the World Bank.

Building on the model of other Better Work country programs — in Asia, it already operates in the garment sectors of Cambodia (as Better Factories Cambodia), Indonesia and Vietnam — Better Work Bangladesh aims to drive sustainable change by helping factories improve working conditions and competitiveness.

It will provide services, including assessments of factory compliance with national labor laws and international standards, and advisory and training services to improve conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers.

Other goals are improving productivity, safeguarding investment, and promoting the growth of the garment sector.

Extension of the program will be linked to progress being made on specific commitments, which will be reviewed annually by Better Work, in cooperation with the government.

“The government and industry stakeholders in Bangladesh have signaled their commitment to make decent work opportunities a reality,” said Better Work director Dan Rees. “We look forward to engaging actively with all partners to demonstrably improve working conditions and support long-term competitiveness of the industry.”

Better Work Bangladesh will be funded by the governments of Switzerland and the US, and through the ILO’s ready-made garment program by the governments of the Netherlands and the UK.

“Rana Plaza and Tazreen became the symbols of what is wrong in the RMG sector. Now Bangladesh, supported by the international community, has the chance to get it right,” said Gerben Sjoerd de Jong, HE Ambassador of the Netherlands in Bangladesh.

He added the program “contains all the crucial elements to make the garment sector safe and sustainable. For us this is a perfect example of using aid to promote responsible trade.”

Stakeholders are also keen to emphasize that the new project compliments other initiatives launched in recent months to improve safety in garment factories.

These include the Sustainability Compact adopted by the European Union, Bangladesh government and United States; the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh which comprises global unions, brands and retailers; and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety which brings together North American retailers and brands.

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