ucanews.com reporter, DhakaUpdated: March 12, 2014 03:46 AM GMT
Union leaders say almost all Bangladeshi garment factories are unsafe
The first internationally sponsored inspections of Bangladesh’s garment industry, nearly a year after Dhaka’s Rana Plaza collapse killed 1,100 people, have found fire-safety, structural and electrical problems at all 10 factories, inspectors said on Tuesday.
Following inspections in November and December by Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a European consortium of 150 clothing brands which was founded after the tragedy at Rana Plaza, the factories will be given up to six months to address the problems.
Brad Loewen, Accord’s chief safety inspector, said: “The problems are correctible and not as extreme as those that caused the collapse of Rana Plaza last year.”
All 10 factories were found to have at least 20 violations including exposed electrical wiring, locked fire escapes and overloaded ceilings.
Dragon Sweater, a factory in Dhaka which makes clothes for brands including Zara, Primark and C&A, recorded 41 infractions, the highest number. Emergency exits inside the 18 story building opened into storage rooms rather than outside and neither the fire alarm nor the sprinkler system were automatic.
Rob Wayss, executive director of Accord, said that some factories might be given extensions beyond six months to fix problems if they present legitimate reasons, adding that he did not think many would face punishment.
“We will see what we can do after the inspections are complete,” he said.
Accord’s inspections are in theory legally binding, formed in response to intense consumer pressure in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse.
Accord sponsors 38 teams of international engineers, assisted by Bangladeshis, with plans to inspect 1,500 factories by September starting with the biggest premises.
North American retailers including Walmart, Gap and Target have formed a separate oversight group called Alliance which has inspected 365 out of 830 factories. It has yet to publicize findings which – unlike Accord – are not legally binding.
Last week, Bangladeshi sweater maker Softex was closed after Accord inspectors found serious structural problems, resulting in the layoff of more than 3,000 workers. Softex, which supplies French supermarket Auchan, was accused by labor leaders of failing to pay workers whose minimum wage is $68 per month while necessary repairs were completed. The owner said Western brands should help cover costs.
“This is nothing new, almost every factory in Bangladesh has safety problems, more or less,” said Nazma Akter, president of the United Federation of Garment Workers union. “I’m concerned about the factories with structural flaws which will need to be relocated. This might lead to a back-and-forth between owners and buyers, ultimately leading to laying off workers.”