Safety is a game-changer

The rise of the RMG industry in Bangladesh

GMT 12:55 2015 Monday ,13 April

Sriyadithatextile - The rise of the RMG industry in Bangladesh

RMG ( ready made garment ) industry in bangladesh
courtesy Google

The rise of the RMG industry in Bangladesh and its ultimately becoming the second largest ready-made garment exporter in the world within just three decades, is just short of a miracle. However, was there any magic wand through which this miracle was performed? The answer is a simple no. Our achievements did not come on a silver platter, the relentless efforts of both entrepreneurs and workers have led our RMG industry to where it is today.

In its journey of three decades, the industry has faced umpteen challenges in the way of securing a strong foothold in the global apparel market. It is our unbeatable adaptability that has helped us conquer these hurdles.

Child labour elimination in 1994, the continuity of export growth after the MFA Quota phase-out, and the global recession are a testimony of our ability to become successful in any situation. After the building collapse in 2013 that gave our RMG industry a big jolt, we have transformed the industry, turned around, and have again proved our resilience to any odds.

The twin tragic incidents were the most unfortunate happenings in the history of our industry. Yet, these two incidents were significant wakeup calls for us, a call for a turn-around and for rebuilding the industry, a call for ensuring the safety of our workers and ourselves. There has been a paradigm shift in the mindset of entrepreneurs -- tremendous progress has been achieved in safety inspection, awareness, and other occupational safety and health issues. Our industry is undergoing transformation in a way that can be iconic for any other textile and apparel industry in the world.

After the tragic building collapse in 2013, it was thought that most of the Bangladeshi garment factories were vulnerable. But after inspection by local and foreign engineers under the initiatives of Accord, Alliance, and National Action Plan (NAP), it was found that less than 1.5% of the factories were in imminent danger, and those facilities were immediately shut down -- 32 out of 2,325 inspected factories. Both Accord and Alliance completed inspection at all of their listed factories.

The government has contracted two private sector firms (TUV - SUD and VEC) to complete inspections under NAP by April 2015. Around 20% of the safety issues in the Corrective Action Plans of Accord factories have been remediated.

Alliance has also completed follow-up visits in 60 factories to check the progress of CAPs. When all the inspections are over and the vulnerable factories are dropped out, and other factories complete their CAPs, Bangladesh’s RMG sector can obviously be regarded as the safest industry in the world, inspected by the foreign experts and buyers under the close observations of the government. Moreover, all the inspection reports of the factories are now available at the Fair Factory Clearinghouse (FFC) and the Inspector General of Factories websites. This makes our progress transparent and credible.

Over the past two years, a number of good things have happened in Bangladesh, and globally as well, in the area of responsible supply chain. The collaborative approach of the stakeholders has been the key behind all the success we achieved -- and this is our key lesson. The joint initiative of the government, industry associations, and labour federations facilitated by ILO called “NAP,” was further complemented by buyers’ engagement through Accord and Alliance.

Brands and retailers who compete in the corporate world every day are working hand-in-hand for the cause of decent working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry. The declaration of Sustainability Compact, its follow-up, and the unparalleled engagement of the diplomatic community, the major support from the donor agencies -- these are all parts of our strength.

The government is also playing a critical role in strengthening the inspection mechanism -- the Chief  Inspector  of  Factories  and Establishments  has  been  upgraded  to  the Directorate  of  Inspection  for  Factories  and Establishment  (DIFE). The government has also allowed duty-free import of fire safety equipment. BGMEA has also taken a number of steps to augment workplace safety efforts by forming a team of 35 fire trainers in December 2013. This team has trained 83,678 workers and staff in 2,386 factories so far. BGMEA conducts a Crash Program on fire safety, and so far 20,188 personnel from 2,342 factories have been trained.

Knowledge, awareness, and rights issues are also important for sustaining our progress – areas where we’re also seeing significant improvements. The government amended the Labour Law within just 90 days of the building collapse, making it more favourable for the workers. This resulted in dramatic progress in new trade union registrations. Until 2012, there were only 138 trade unions in the RMG sector, and since January 2013 till now, 291 trade unions have been registered.

The minimum wages of the garment workers has been increased by 219% over the past five years, our wages are now comparable to those of our competitors. The Better Work Program launched by ILO and International Finance Corporation (IFC) has also started its operation, and already 21 factories have enrolled.

BGMEA has been arranging regular training programs on worker-management relations and labour laws for both factory management and workers to educate them. Already, around 914 workers and mid-level management staff have been trained. We are training 100 people every month. In addition, the Bangladesh Employers Federation, BGMEA, and BKMEA, with the support of ITC-ILO, have trained 100 senior master trainers. These 100 master trainers will train 7,500 supervisors, and subsequently, the supervisors will train an estimated 750,000 workers.

The transformation that our apparel industry has undergone in the areas of workplace safety and workers’ welfare issues in the last two years will certainly play a crucial role in changing the future course of the industry, turning it into a sustainable sector.

We firmly believe that the day is not far when the RMG industry, which is a path to better living for millions of people in Bangladesh, will be regarded not only as the second largest but also as the safest garment industry in the world as it would be the only industry inspected by foreign experts and buyers.
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