Over the last three years Bangladesh ready-made garment (RMG) industry has undergone a remarkable change in terms of safety compliance. Building, fire and electrical safety inspections in over 3700 factories have been completed under three initiatives namely Accord, Alliance and National Action Plan. While Accord and Alliance are buyers-led initiatives, National Action Plan is a tripartite platform comprising the Bangladesh government, workers and employers. This paradigm shift in the safety compliance would reshape future of the apparel industry and give it a sustainable footing in the world market.
Accord and Alliance programmes began in July 2013 for a five-year period. As scheduled, these two buyers' initiative will expire in June 2018. Accord and Alliance have already completed inspection of their listed factories numbering about 2200. As they have reported, 70 per cent of the findings in Accord factories and 63 per cent of the findings in Alliance factories have already been fixed. The remediation process is quite satisfactory. There is still one and a half years to go. Given the progress already made we can reasonably expect that cent per cent remediation will be carried out well before June 2018.
But the change that these platforms initiated is not meant for the time being; rather it is aimed at building a safe and sustainable apparel industry in Bangladesh. However, a question has arisen as to what will happen when Accord and Alliance cease to operate from July 2018 and how to ensure continued oversight of the safety compliance beyond June 2018.
This is what the government with support from the ILO is set to address. We understand that the government is actively working on building capacity of the relevant government agencies such as, Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), Fire Service and Civil Defence Department and the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (RAJUK). A good number of inspectors/technical personnel have already been recruited and some more are in the process of hiring. Adequate training is also being provided to the recruited personnel with support from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Additionally, the government of Bangladesh is working together with ILO and other stakeholders to set up a platform called Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) to oversee remediation and safety compliance. This cell will start working from June 2018. One good thing is that local young people including engineers who have acquired experience and practical knowledge working with Accord and Alliance will be readily available to handle safety compliance issues in the years ahead. We do not see any reason to worry over workplace safety in our RMG factories beyond June 2018.
Besides, a silent but notable change has taken place in the RMG industry - the change in the mindset of the entrepreneurs regarding safety compliance. They are now more aware about the importance of workplace safety than ever before. And it is evident from the success rate in carrying out of remediation plans recommended by the Accord and the Alliance. The entrepreneurs are making huge investment in safety upgrade in their factories though they know it very well that this investment has no immediate return. But they have realised that ensuring workplace safety is a prerequisite to sustain the business.
Moreover, increased awareness about safety measures among workers and employees of the factories is another factor which would reinforce safety compliance in the factories. In addition, safety committee comprising workers' representatives in the factories would help to address occupational safety and health-related issues. Both Accord and Alliance have been imparting training to workers in occupational health and safety.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and exporters Association (BGMEA) with the support of the ILO is also carrying out safety training programmes both for mid-level management officials and workers. BGMEA is also arranging regular training programmes on worker-management relations and labour laws for both factory management and workers to educate them. In addition, the Bangladesh Employers Federation, BGMEA and BKMEA (Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association) with the support of ITC-ILO 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 famous brands and buyers extended their support to our apparel industry by forming the safety platforms - the Accord and the Alliance -- at a time when the sector needed it most. The International Labour Organisation gave timely support to transform our RMG industry. But one should keep in mind that Accord and Alliance is a vital but short-term recipe for addressing a long-term issue. It is neither feasible nor possible for Accord and Alliance to oversee the safety issue in Bangladesh's apparel industry on a permanent basis but maintaining safety compliance is an ongoing process. Maintaining workplace safe in the country is ultimately the responsibility of the government, which along with the apparel sector, is geared up to take the helm. Workplace safety is a must for sustainable RMG industry.
The writer is the immediate past Vice President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Managing Director of Classic Group.