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Bangladesh brings in new work safety measures

ILO-backed initiative follows Rana Plaza collapse

Bangladesh brings in new work safety measures

The US has removed preferential tariffs for Bangladesh in a bid to provoke safety improvements (photo by Stephan Uttom) reporter, Dhaka

October 23, 2013

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Bangladesh and the International Labor Organization (ILO) launched a new garment sector safety campaign on Tuesday aimed at improving factory working conditions, six months after a garment factory complex building collapsed killing 1,132 people.

The new initiative, which aims to minimize fires and structural problems by the end of 2016, will target about half of the country’s 4,500 garment factories which are yet to sign up to new safety directives.

“Successful implementation of the programs will ensure better working conditions and safety for garment workers in Bangladesh,” said Gilbert Houngbo, the ILO’s director general for field operations and partnerships.

The move comes after the US suspended preferential trade status for Bangladesh following the Rana Plaza tragedy and a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in Dhaka which killed more than 110 people in November last year. Washington is due to review the measures in December.

The European Union has also threatened a similar end to reduced tariffs on the country’s US$20 billion garment industry.

“Rana Plaza and Tazreen became the symbols of what is wrong in the ready made garments sector. Now Bangladesh, supported by the international community, has the chance to get it right,” said Dutch ambassador Gerben Sjoerd de Jong.

Holland, Canada and the UK have donated $24 million to the safety campaign with a further $22 million expected from a collective of fashion brands which operate in the country.

Dhaka-based labor leader Babul Akhter said that the new safety campaign should go beyond just trying to revive the poor image of the Bangladeshi garment industry and initiate tangible changes.

“The garment industry is full of a number of sad stories of poor and neglected workers which came to light only after recent tragedies,” he said.

A recent survey by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology found that about 90 percent of the buildings housing factories were structurally unsafe.

There have been several safety inspections since the Tazreen and Rana Plaza accidents but they have suffered from a shortage of manpower and a lack of technical expertise.

“We have established a fully fledged directorate for factory inspections and the number of inspectors will be raised from the current 200 to about 679 by the end of this year,” said Labor Minister Rajuddin Ahmed.

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