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Undocumented is Deadly: Bangladesh Launches New Garment Worker Database

After the deadliest twelve months on record in Bangladesh’s garment industry, the country’s 4,000-member garment inspection and lobbyist consortium–the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association–has introduced a “biometric database” which will track every worker in Bangladesh’s garment factories.

“Once the worker registers, he or she will be given a unique ID, which will be valid at all BGMEA factories,” Reaz Bin Mahmood, the BGMEA’s vice-president of finance, told just-style.

Currently, no concrete data exists on the number of skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers in Bangladeshi factories. “We do not know how many women workers are there in the industry,” Mahmood said.

Ignorance, the industry has learned, can be deadly. After the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April, rescuers were unsure how many workers were missing, greatly hindering their efforts. In the end, the death toll exceeded 1,100 workers.

By the end of summer 2013, the 400 mid-level factory officials currently in-training with the BGMEA will have introduced the worker database at their factories. if they don’t, their factories will lose certification, and with it their ability to export. The database, which uses workers’ fingerprints to track identities, will cost factory owners approximately $6,427 to install.

There are 5,400 garment factories in Bangladesh. Assuming that each official represents one factory–that no factories have sent multiple representatives–this will leave at least 5,000 factories unenrolled.

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