Bangladesh has shut down 18 factories indefinitely this week, following the deadly building collapse on April 24th that killed more than 800 garment workers as they manufactured clothing for Western retailers like Britain’s Primark and the Spain’s Mango. This Monday, Bangladesh pledged its commitment to worker safety to the International Labor Organization, agreeing to give it the “the highest consideration.”
In recent years, Bangladesh has been an obvious sourcing choice for Western retailers–lower labor costs than China, preferential taxes on exports, and proximity to Asian markets. But after a series of high-profile, high-casualty incidents, Bangladesh’s textile ministry is afraid of losing business to their neighbors in Indonesia, India, and Cambodia. Currently, Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment exporter, and garment exports account for more than 40% of its industrial workforce, which would make a loss of Western business economically devastating.
Textile ministry Abdul Latif Siddique told reporters that sixteen factories in Dhaka and two in Chittagong have now been closed, and that two more will be shut down as part of Bangladesh’s strict new safety policies. “We have seen that those who claim to be the best compliant factories in Bangladesh have not fully abided by building regulations,” Siddique said.
Siddique has also been made head of a new inspection panel, which will audit Bangladesh’s 4,500 garment factories, and has been given the power to immediately shut down factories unable to pass inspection. The government has also joined with the ILO and factory owners to create a labor law reform package, which will be submitted at the next parliamentary session. The package is meant to free up collective bargaining for factory workers, and provide for “occupational safety and health”.
Bangladeshi police have arrested 12 people associated with the tragic building collapse in April. Preliminary investigations indicate that vibrations from the factory’s electricity generators may be responsible for the collapse.