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Live From Magic: Bangladesh Ambassador Says Buyers Have Big Role in Factory Safety

Bangladesh is in the limelight because of Rana Plaza and the Tazreen Fashions fire, but long-term trends for the country remain strong, says Akramul Qader, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United States. On factory safety, responsibility must be shared between the government, the BGMEA, and buyers.

Speaking to Sourcing Journal and a group of industry players at Sourcing at Magic in Las Vegas today, Qader blamed the vast size of the country’s garment industry for safety lapses. “We have 5000 garment factories all over the country. It’s not easy to supervise them all in one go. It’s not just the government. It’s also the responsibility of the buyers who are placing orders.”

He also cited subcontracting, along with a culture of negligence among factory managers and officials.

“For example, during the Tazreen Fashion’s fire they could see the fire downstairs, but the duty managers on the upper floors thought it would be controlled, and asked the workers to continue working while the rear door was locked and only the front door was open.”

Speaking further on government lapses, he pointed out that at Rana Plaza an engineer from the local administration had been called in when a crack was found in the building. The engineer said that the building was unsafe and put up a notice stating that people should not enter. Then he left, and the garment factory owners and the building owner kept operating.

“Now, the government has taken immediate steps. The owner of the building is in jail, for example.”

Ensuring compliance across all 5000 factories is partly an issue of money. European retailers, international organizations, the Dutch and US governments and many others have committed sums, but, Qader says, “The money that has been committed is virtually nothing, compared to what will be needed. We are the second largest exporter of garments in the world. We’re not talking about one or two factories.”

Avedis Seferian, President and CEO of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), was also at the meeting. He asked if the government of Bangladesh has been taking enough action at the top level. He said, “When the government announces a budget that allocates no new funds to safety initiatives in this industry, people in the world wonder if you’re actually serious.”

Qader responded that the government has hired hundreds of inspectors since the Rana Plaza collapse.

“It’s the first time something like this has happened in Bangladesh, and now everyone is committed to creating a safety program,” he said.