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Bangladesh RMG industry is transforming into one of the safest in the world learning from Rana Plaza incident

Four years ago, on 24th April 2013, the Ready Made Garments (RMG) industry of Bangladesh was severely trembled by the Rana Plaza factory collapse when 1,138 people were died and more than 2,500 people were injured. This incident was recorded as the worst industrial accident globally for 30 years. It came like a curse for the industry as the world was watching Bangladesh in the eyes of ‘Rana Plaza’ and some buyers were taking away orders from Bangladesh for ‘poor compliance’ and for ‘severe safety concerns’.

Some foreign media, workers unions and human rights organizations are always highlighting the poor conditions of RMG industry in Bangladesh. According to them, the workers’ rights and safety situations are not improving at all. However, they may have consciously or unconsciously hidden the improvement of workers’ rights and safety situations in the RMG factories as Bangladesh RMG industrialists and government took several effective steps to improve the reputation after the disastrous situation. If we see the complete scenario of the industry, we see huge development has been occurred after the deadly incident.

The National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity along with two global buyers’ groups; Alliance and Accord, inspected several factories and even closed some of the risky factories. The labor law of the country has been reformed and rights to form trade unions in factories including in special economic zones, has been approved. On the other hand, BGMEA, on behalf of RMG manufacturers, took a bold step to place a target of attaining $50bn by 2021, gave huge confidence to the apparel makers.

Figure 1: Major strategies and changes occurred after Rana Plaza collapse.
Figure 1: Major strategies and changes occurred after Rana Plaza collapse.

However, a lot remains to be done to make sure a sustainable and value adding transformation of the industry. We know that this industry contributes more than 80 percent of total Bangladesh exports and more than 10 percent of the GDP of the country and creates more than 4.2 million employments. The minimum wage for garment workers is $68 a month, the lowest in Asia and below the World Bank poverty line, which should be raised and to do this, the combined effort is must from millers, buyers and government. Rana Plaza victims and labor activist’s re-echoed demand for punishment of culprits responsible as the criminal of the massacre is still not be punished.

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on 23 April 2017 called for introducing social dialogue for readymade garments (RMG) sector to protect workers’ rights and ensure their safety in the workplace.  The think-tank also laid emphasis on raising awareness among workers and entrepreneurs about social dialogue on the occasion of the Rana Plaza disaster’s fourth anniversary. Speakers in the seminar asked for more contribution from the buyers to the work place safety and worker’s income and livelihood. CPD questioned that when a 5 USD garment bought from Bangladesh is being sold at 25 USD at western stores then why worker’s right and safety would suffer for lower wages and scarcity of investment behind safety. Global brands easily can spend a small portion of their huge profit in improving safety of the supplying factories and workers’ livelihood improvement.

Table 1: ActionAid Bangladesh revealed a survey result on 22 April, that conducted on 1,403 wounded labors and 607 family members of Rana Plaza victims
·         74.5 % said their physical health was somewhat stable

·         12.4 % were completely stable and

·         13.1 % respondents said their condition is getting worse

·         40 % survivors remain workless

·         who are still physically and psychologically unfit, did not get any compensation and proper rehabilitation

BRAC arranged a seminar where they pointed out several issues including amendment of the labor law for the garment sector with the provision of a worker welfare fund, where the factory owner’s contribution was set at 5 cents per $100 of exports. Khondaker Mostan Hossain, joint secretary of the labour and employment ministry, said in the seminar that the size of the welfare fund stood at Tk. 200 crore after implementation of the amended labor law, which was only Tk. 42 lakh before the Rana Plaza incident. The ministry is working to introduce an injury insurance scheme with the aid of the German government and the International Labor Organization, he added.

A few days ago, James F Moriarty, Country Director of Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety, said that Bangladesh’s garment industry is transforming from one of the most dangerous in the world to one of the safest. The path is not bed of rose but attainable and Bangladesh RMG industry is moving towards this by learning lesson from Rana Plaza incident.

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