Export-oriented RMG factories are the perfect examples for the local ones, say experts
The recent fire at a food processing factory in Narayanganj should serve as a stark warning of the consequences should the country fail to ensure safety rule compliance at local factories, experts have said.
The fire at the Hashem Foods Ltd factory building in Narayanganj’s Rupganj on July 8 claimed at least 52 lives. Most of the victims could have been saved if basic fire safety measures had been in place at the factory, according to firefighters in the district.
Sources at the Narayanganj district Fire Services unit also said they had fought fires at hundreds of factories over the past year. They noted that none of the factories had proper safety precautions.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, additional research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told Dhaka Tribune: “Safety precautions have long played second fiddle to business interests. If businessmen cut down on safety, their profit margin is higher.”
Citing the fire at the Hashem Foods Ltd factory, he said: “Fire exits are not installed, child labour is hired, and collapsible gates are locked to force workers to work overtime at local factories, all because of greed.”
Follow example of export oriented RMG factories
When asked how the government could ensure safety rule compliance at factories, Moazzem said one did not have to look far to find the perfect examples of safety compliant factories.
“The model of the export oriented RMG sector is one that can be followed to ensure punishment of rule violators at other local factories,” he added.
Following the Tazreen Fashion fire in 2012 and Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, there have been significant strides made in safety at export-oriented garment factories of the county as a result of international scrutiny.
“We are lucky that we already have a model [in the export-oriented garments sector] that can be followed in the case of other local factories.”
Shakil Akhter Chowdhury, executive council member of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), also said significant progress had been made at RMG factories since the Rana Plaza disaster drew international attention to safety issues.
The government increased monitoring at RMG factories after the incident, but Chowdhury lamented that local factories had not received the same attention.
“The manpower of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments has grown over the years, but it has almost exclusively been focused on export oriented RMG factories,” he said.
According to the BILS executive council member, there are about 3.2 million RMG factories in Bangladesh, while there are over 60 million other factories.
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Nine of the world’s top 10 green garment factories are in Bangladesh. Another 500 factories are in the process of getting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
LEED certification is a rating system that reviews a factory’s green initiatives such as sustainable site development, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere conservation, materials selection and resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation, regional priority and integrative process credits.