A new three-and-a-half-year initiative from the Bangladesh government and the International Labour Organization (ILO) – Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector – focuses on minimizing the threat of fire and building collapse in ready-made garment factories and on ensuring the rights and safety of workers. It was developed in collaboration with government, employers’ and workers’ representatives in response to a number of industrial accidents in the sector, including the Rana Plaza building collapse in April, which killed more than 1,100 workers.
“ILO has played a long-term role in Bangladesh, with extensive involvement in the RMG sector prior to the Tazreen Fashions fire and the Rana Plaza building collapse,” said ILO Deputy-Director General for Field Operations and Partnerships Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo. “This program will provide support in implementing the National Tripartite Plan of Action on fire safety and structural integrity. Successful implementation of the program will ensure better working conditions and safety for the ready-made garment workers in Bangladesh.”
Minister of Labour and Employment Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju noted, “The government has initiated some substantive works on occupational safety and health for the ready-made garment (RMG)sector workers. I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to the development partners who have provided support in this initiative.”
Minister of Finance Abul Maal Abdul Muhith added, “I hope that the project on ‘Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector’ will definitely make significant contribution towards enduring safe and better working condition in ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh.”
The United Kingdom and the Netherlands are jointly contributing USD $15 million to the programme. The ILO is also mobilising further resources.
The RMG program will provide technical support for building and fire safety assessments; strengthen and support labor, fire and buildings inspections; build occupational safety and health awareness, capacity and systems; and provide rehabilitation and skills training for the victims of the disasters at Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions (where 112 workers died in a fire in November 2012).
“Rana Plaza and Tazreen became the symbols of what is wrong in the RMG sector,” said Gerben Sjoerd de Jong, H.E. ambassador of the Netherlands in Bangladesh. “Now Bangladesh, supported by the international community, has the chance to get it right. The Netherlands supports this ILO program because it contains all the crucial elements to make the garment sector safe and sustainable. For us this is a perfect example of using aid to promote responsible trade.”
The sustainability of the ready-made garment industry has a pivotal role to play in Bangladesh’s continued social and economic development, according to Robert Gibson, the British high commissioner to Bangladesh, who signed the project document on behalf of his government. “This program is a key part of the UK's approach to help ensure safe working conditions and improved productivity in the sector,” he said.
The new project compliments other initiatives to improve safety in RMG factories such as the Sustainability Compact adopted by the European Union, Bangladesh government and United States, and supported by the ILO; the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which comprises global unions, brands and retailers; and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety which brings together North American retailers and brands.
“There is a deepening convergence of interests – from the global community and Bangladesh – to work together in supporting our RMG industry, for supporting lives and livelihoods of 4 million of our people involved with the industry [and] for all-encompassing women empowerment,” said Dr. Dipu Moni, Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The program builds on ongoing ILO interventions and compliments the Fire Safety, Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and Labour Relations initiatives funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Kingdom of Norway.
As part of the new program, the ILO and the International Finance Corp. also announced the launch of the Better Work Bangladesh program. The program includes factory-level activities to improve compliance with national labor laws and encourage respect for international core labor standards while promoting the competitiveness of participating factories.