Speakers at a high-level event in Dhaka, Bangladesh to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse that killed 1,138 workers and injured 2,000 more reiterated their commitment to working together to ensure safety and rights for workers in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector in Bangladesh.
“It has been a year of continuous efforts by the government of Bangladesh towards the goal of ensuring safety for the workers and to prevent another Rana Plaza-type incident in the future,” said Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, of the Bangladesh Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment.
He said the government has upgraded the office of the chief inspector of factories and establishments to a department and sanctioned 679 new staff positions in the directorate, including 392 new inspectors. This fulfills the major promise made in the National Tripartite Plan of Action (NTPA), and the current government is committed to continue its effort, he added.
A minute of silence was observed in remembrance of the workers who lost their lives in the collapse of Rana Plaza on April 24, 2013. Most of the victims were workers from the ready-made garment (RMG) factories housed in the building.
The government of Bangladesh and the International Labour Organization (ILO) are implementing a three-and-a-half-year initiative aimed at improving working conditions in the RMG sector in Bangladesh. The US$24.21 million RMG program is funded by Canada, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Looking back at the past year, Gilbert Houngbo, ILO deputy director-general for field operations and partnerships, said he was encouraged by what had been achieved and stressed the importance of keeping up momentum to deliver on all aspects of the NTPA.
“Much has been done, now the factory inspections must be completed, compensation claims processed and the labor law implemented in full,” Houngbo said. “The increased number of factory unions is a significant step towards improved workers’ rights. Training for the new unions and employers is essential, so that a better future for the RMG sector can be built on social dialogue.”
“We also need to think ahead in terms of preparedness, through a workplace injury insurance scheme for example,” added Houngbo.
Under the RMG program, the ILO is providing support in terms of coordinating inspections and technical assistance, including training and logistics to the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) for inspecting factory buildings, both for structural integrity and fire and electrical safety.
As of April 2014, BUET had inspected 200 factories for electrical and fire safety and structural integrity, with inspection of the remaining factories due to be completed by the end of the year. All inspections are carried out using a uniform set of minimum inspection standards.
“Canada is committed to supporting the government of Bangladesh’s efforts to improve working conditions in the ready-made garment sector, in line with international labour standards,” said Heather Cruden, high commissioner of Canada.
“This large and growing sector is critical to Bangladesh’s economy and responsible for significant increases in women’s employment and economic empowerment in the country,” she added. “Improving Bangladesh’s ready-made garment sector requires a collective effort by all stakeholders and coordination is essential. We believe that Canada’s support to this ILO project will contribute to ensuring that Bangladesh will be better equipped to ensure safe and healthy employment for its people.”
Gerben S. de Jong, the ambassador from the Netherlands, said his country strongly believes that the government of Bangladesh, employers’ associations, trade unions, brands and the international community must continue to work together towards the realization of the transformation of the RMG sector.
“The Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation has shown her personal commitment to this cause and supports Bangladesh through ILO in its efforts to ensure safe working conditions. Rana Plaza, never again,” added de Jong.
Rehabilitation programs for the survivors of the Rana Plaza Collapse are underway, and skills development and re-employment support has been provided to an initial 50 injured survivors. A further 250 survivors are receiving similar support.
In his remarks, British High Commissioner Robert W Gibson said, “Everyone has a role to play in making this a safe industry, and one that will have a positive impact on social change and on women's empowerment. Let us use this anniversary to maintain momentum and push for further progress. We must ensure that the commitments made translate into real changes. The UK will continue to support efforts that will help the garment industry in Bangladesh be more than a source of revenue but a source of pride.”
Since 2013, over 140 RMG factory unions have registered in Bangladesh, compared to only two in the previous three years.
“We have seen important results in terms of factory inspections, labour law amendments and rehabilitation programmes and we are committed to completing those actions set out in the NTPA,” said Tapan Chowdhury, president of the Bangladesh Employers’ Federation.
Dan W. Mozena, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, called Rana Plaza “a clarion call for deep, fundamental change in Bangladesh’s apparel sector.”
He said that international efforts in the last year to improve conditions for workers have “put Bangladesh on track to achieve a strong, dynamic, profitable garment industry, one where workers are fairly compensated, fairly treated, and have a voice in their working conditions to ensure their safety and security.”