It’s a jungle out there, especially in foreign competition for US and EU manufacturing business, and whatever country has a competitive edge can win big.
That’s why Bangladesh, with low wages and duty-free access to overseas markets, has grabbed major manufacturing orders from Tirupur, in neighboring India. Tirupur’s main customer is the EU.
But the recent factory collapse at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in which 1,131 people were killed may have altered the competition equation in favor of Tirupur.
The Bangladesh government and several major world brands who manufacture in the country have recently signed a binding contract to improve factory safety and working conditions, and have pledged financial support to achieve that goal.
Not every brand has signed on to the agreement, however, and some brands may be looking elsewhere in Asia and Southeast Asia as manufacturing sources. Concern for worker safety may in part drive some decisions to relocate business, but negative public relations is another strong aspect of the potential drift away from Bangladesh.
Factory safety is not an issue in Tirupur according to a consensus of opinion among workers, factory owners and non-governmental organizations.
Other problems nevertheless beleaguer Tirupur. Among them low wages, long working days, power shortages, unreliable demand from customers, sanitation issues for women, and labor conditions characterized as worker bondage.
But why doesn’t Tirupur have factory safety issues?
“…More than 90 percent of the factories are on the ground floor,” says A. Sakthivel, president of the Tirupur Exporters Assocation.
The factory which collapsed ar Rana Plaza was eight stories high, two stories higher than the permitted limit.
Tirupur factories also strictly comply with safety and health regulations, adequate ventilation is provided, fire extinguishers are available and emergency exits offer quick escape from fires or other hazards.
Tirupur factories are also inspected every three years and require a license to operate, granted only after a rigid inspection is passed.
Other contentious issues among workers, factory owners, labor advocates, NGOs and the government may persist in Tirupur, but plant safety is not one of them.