Friday 25 November 2016

Why Is It Taking So Long To Make Bangladeshi Garment Factories Safe?

Three years after the Rana Plaza disaster, a regulatory body in charge of implementing root-and-branch safety changes in Bangladeshi factories is not doing its job. Worse, it's passing factories as safe when work has yet to be completed.

The Guardian has revealed that an independent survey into the factories used by the Alliance consortium, an organisation of retailers that include Gap and Walmart, shows that nearly two-thirds are still not up to code. 62% of factories surveyed have neither working fire alarms or proper fire doors. Nearly half have major structural issues that have not been corrected.

The Alliance Consortium has now pushed back a self-imposed deadline to complete the work needed on these factories to 2018–which just happens to coincide with the end of their agreement to carry out that work. There's also contention as to what constitutes completed safety work. The independent survey, undertaken by a group of observers that include the International Labour Rights Forum, the Worker Rights Consortium, the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Maquila Solidarity Network, consider that of the 107 factories considered to be "on track", an astonishing 99 were still falling over on at least one aspect of safety.

The authors of the report note:

“The Alliance has never offered any justification for the decision to ignore its own safety deadlines. Nor has the Alliance explained why it is responsible to allow factories four years to carry out life-saving renovations that should have been completed in less than one, while still labeling those factories as ‘On Track’.”

For their own part, the Alliance dispute the findings. Director of the Consortium James Moriarty was bullish on progress:

“We in the Alliance are doing something that has never been done before. We are taking an existing industry that is seriously flawed and trying to correct it from scratch. The assertion that we could get all this done in one year is frankly ludicrous to anyone who has an engineering or safety background and understands the past state or the current state of the industry.”

James does have a point here. The Bangladeshi garment industry is one built quickly on highly questionable safety standards. It's unsurprising that those standards are so low, and building something that will ensure there's no repeat of Rana Plaza should not be cobbled together. Nevertheless, everyone wants results. Should we be concerned that the Alliance seems to be dragging its heels? Or do we take it on faith that doing a good job will take longer than originally anticipated?

Sadly, I guess we'll have to wait and see. But as ever, scrutiny and transparency can only help to keep those in charge of worker safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry on their toes and, at least nominally, on schedule.

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