Remediation in 'risky' garment factories assessed under the government-ILO (international Labour Organisation) joint initiative has not so far made appreciable progress. Industry insiders attributed it mainly to the lack of expertise, funding, government vigilance and last but not least, willingness of factory owners.
Many factories located in rented or shared buildings that accommodate other establishments and the row among the factory and building owners as to who will carry out the necessary flaw-fixing work are also to blame for the slow progress.
The authorities said the extent of risk will be determined after conducting the Detailed Engineering Assessments (DEA). DEAs are conducted by qualified structural engineers hired by the factories. A complete DEA takes around 45 days. Some RMG manufacturers allege that the number of DEA teams is insufficient compared to the number of garment units and the firms also charge high taking the advantage of long queues.
Structural remediation is slower than that of fire and electrical ones. There are many reasons behind the slow pace of work that have been cited by the apparel makers. The retailers' platforms take long time in giving approval to DEA reports.
Accord assessed some 1,600 local garment factories that produce apparel products for its more than 200 signatory members and found more than 80,000 safety hazards in its initial inspection until September this year. Some 3,334 structural hazards or nearly 49 per cent out of total identified 6,707 have been fixed in its listed factories during the period. On the other hand, 11,569 electrical issues out of 16,824 flaws and 8,851 fire hazards out of 14,122 have been remediated.
According to the readymade garments (RMG) owners, the remediation progress is being delayed because the Western retailers' platforms are taking much time to approve those while sometimes they, especially Accord, ask the apparel factory owners to submit new information.
Allegations have it that the two platforms - Accord and Alliance - formed in 2014 after the Rana Plaza building collapse to ensure workplace safety in the country's RMG sector, are now interfering with issues, especially labour ones, which are beyond their jurisdiction.
The garment owners are also pleading for foreign funds worth $200 million in order to complete the remediation task at their units. They say there is a need to double the investment in the next five years to achieve the $50-billion export target by 2021. The fact remains that the required investment will not be possible without foreign direct investment (FDI).
Most of the factory managements did apparently want to carry out all the prescribed recommendations. But it took too much time to complete the procedure in getting approval from the building owner. Without conducting the DEA, it is impossible to move forward in remedial work.
On the other hand, many other factory owners do no appear to be positive towards remedial work, which is one of the major reasons behind such a poor progress.
However, this is also a fact that the agencies do not have sufficient manpower to monitor the post-inspection activities. The existing teams also lack related know-how. An amount of $1.0 billion in costs is needed to complete remediation of factories in line with the suggestions made by two platforms of global buyers and a national initiative.
A recent study, however, estimated that 75 per of the RMG factories in Bangladesh will not need large structural retrofitting work and the 25 per cent, which require retrofitting, are facing remediation costs which in extreme cases can reach $1.5 million.
The cost of remediation and lack of willingness of factory owners, it has been observed, are largely being identified as the prime challenges to the remediation. The high interest rates and a lack of financial literacy were also seen as major obstacles to obtaining remediation financing by the factories.
Meanwhile, the ILO recently asked Bangladesh to complete the remediation work in the garment sector as soon as possible to save the sector from any future catastrophe. Respect for labour rights is part of the growth trajectory for it to be socially inclusive and sustainable.
Workers have to be made a partner in progress, the ILO said. International standards should be followed in all issues, whether it is freedom of association or collective bargaining, it added.
According to a recent study, there is currently no direct involvement of the governments of major retailing countries to make major retailers and brands follow ethically responsible sourcing practices and pay fair prices for their orders. As such, the ongoing remediation activities need to be completed with possible industrial up-gradation to the satisfaction of the alliance groups and other stakeholders, it added.
In the circumstances, apparel makers and the safety inspection teams should work in unison to gear up the remediation work of the garment factories. Otherwise, it will be an uphill task to save the industry from any imminent catastrophe.