In the wake of strong encouragement by U.S. and Canadian trade groups, Bangladesh announced that import duties on fire and safety equipment would be eliminated.
As a result, worker safety would be significantly improved in Bangladeshi garment factories, plagued in recent years by fatal fires, building collapses and generally poor labor conditions. Costs of the safety upgrades would also be reduced.The announcement of Bangladesh’s new duty-free policy on fire and safety equipment was made in Dhaka by Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed at the recent two-day International Trade Expo on Building and Fire Safety.
Among the planned safety upgrades are the installation of fire doors, sprinkler systems, new electrical equipment and lighting. All such safety products would be of high quality and certified, said Ian Spaulding, chair of the Expo Organizing Committee. Some previously installed fire safety equipment in factories were not certified and had to be re-installed, according to Spaulding.
In his statement to Trade Expo participants, the minister said that complete retrofitting and remediation of all Bangladeshi factories — there are several thousand in the country — could not be implemented immediately. “It’s not a matter of today or tomorrow,” he said. “It will take time.”
Duties and taxes on fire doors at their high were a prohibitive 61.09%, and on sprinkler systems, 31.07%. Without the added import costs of these safety devices, imports of the equipment are expected to increase substantially.Some E.U. buyers of Bangladeshi-made garments, however, have been canceling orders from those factories which are shared by multiple customers. Europe is the largest importer of Bangladeshi apparel products, buying 60 percent of the nation’s annual output in this sector.
Romesh Roy, secretary of IndustriAll Bangladesh Council, called on apparel retailers to raise prices in line with the increased wages of factory workers by owners. IndustriAll is a global union representing some 50 million workers in 140 countries, according to the organization’s website.