After the collapse of Rana Plaza in Savar, the renovation work of the export-oriented garment
factory started in three separate initiatives. In the first five years of reform, the pace of reform has accelerated due to international pressure and fears of losing business. The business also turned around. However, the pace of reform gradually began to lose. In fact, the reform work is at a standstill now. This situation has been going on for four years.

Due to the withdrawal of activities from Accord and Alliance Bangladesh, the two alliances of
buyers, the renovation work of about two thousand medium and large factories were hampered. However, more than per cent of the renovation work was completed before that. After the Alliance left on 31 December 2016, an organization called NIRAPAN was formed to supervise the factories under their control, but it is no more. The Accord’s factories have been overseen by the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) since May 31, 2020. This nationally initiated organization has been running slowly from the beginning. Occasionally the inspection activities were closed for some time. This year has started again. However, the leaders of BGMEA and BKMEA, an association of ready-made garment industry owners, said that it was not satisfactory.

On the other hand, the renovation work of 652 factories under the National Tripartite Action Plan (NTAP) is in full swing. The Department of Factory and Establishment Inspection (DIFE) was overseeing the renovation of the factories under a project called Correction Coordination Cell (RCC). That project expired last December. However, the renovation work was not even half done.

“In the event of a new accident in the garment industry, all the achievements of the renovation work will be ruined. Therefore, effective measures need to be taken from the top level of the government now.” [Khandaker Golam Moazzem, Director of Research, CPD]

The renovation work of garment factories under Accord, Alliance and NTAP are not over. Out of these three initiatives, 754 small and medium enterprises were excluded from inspection activities as two garment owners’ associations, BGMEA and BKMEA, were not members. New factories are being set up again. According to the industrial police, 58 factories have been set up in Gazipur in the first month of this year. Most of them are garment factories. There is a weakness in the security system of the factories. Some of them do not have a fire extinguishing system.

The collapse of Savar’s Rana Plaza showed how weak the security of Bangladesh’s garment factories is. On April 24, 2013, 1,137 workers of five garment factories were killed in the country’s
biggest industrial accident. Sunday marks the 9th anniversary of that industrial accident. There is still a risk of fire, and electric and boiler accidents in small and medium scale factories. The factories could not be made safe for the workers due to the negligence of the owners and the government not taking strict action.

What is DIFE doing?
The inspection of 1,549 garment factories under NTAP ended in November 2015. At that time, DIFE said that none of the factories was 100% free from defects. But despite repeated pressure, the department failed to speed up the renovation work of these factories. The RCC was later formed to oversee the reforms, but no action was taken. As of April last year, 852 factories under RSC had 45 per cent defect repairs. The RCC expired last December.

DIFE Inspector General. Nasir Uddin Ahmed said, “A couple of months ago, we set up an industry safety unit to complete the renovation of the factory. At present, 8 engineers are working in that unit. ‘He said that 652 factories have been divided into three categories to complete the renovation work. There are 162 factories in the first phase. 20-22 of them are closed. Basically, the first factory that can be completed quickly has been taken. The renovation of the factories will be completed by June 30. The rest of the factory has a roadmap to be completed by 2026.

The pace of RSC is slow.
Accord left Bangladesh on 31 May 2020 and handed over its activities to RSC. Last December,
the RSC said that the overall renovation work of 1,072 factories under them was 91 per cent complete. However, the Accord completed about 90 per cent of the renovations before handing over the responsibility.

Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of BGMEA, an association of garment industry owners, said the RSC was moving very slowly. They need to be more professional.

Khandaker Golam Moazzem, director of CPD, a private research institute, said good progress had been made in factory safety after the Rana Plaza collapse. However, the renovation work has come to a standstill for several years.

This is creating a safety risk in the factory, which has led to new fire accidents in recent times. He said all the achievements of the renovation work would be tarnished if there was a new accident in the garment industry in which workers lost their lives. Therefore, effective measures need to be taken from the top level of the government now.

Writer: Md. Manik Parvez, Lecturer, Department of Textile Engineering, DIU