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Bangladesh Suspends Import Privileges of 84 ‘Unsafe’ Garment Factories

More than 80 garment factories in Bangladesh have lost the right to import duty-free fabrics and raw materials due to poor compliance with national safety standards, local media has reported.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the trade union of garment-factory owners in the South Asian nation, suspended so-called “utilisation declarations”—or UDs, which are certificates necessary for facilitating the duty-free movement of goods through customs—from 84 units based on the recommendation of Bangladesh’s Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).

Another 54 factories have been “given time” to improve workplace conditions before their certificates are similarly frozen, said Rubana Huq, president of the BGMEA. The managers of those facilities have been asked to attend a BGMEA event this month to discuss their progress.

“Factories, which haven’t been able to comply with the basic requirements even after six years of Rana Plaza tragedy, don’t qualify to be reconsidered,” Huq told The Daily Star. “Suspension of the UD is the first step.”

DIFE inspector general Shib Nath Roy had written to the BGMEA on Jan. 5 to voice concerns about 143 BGMEA members—35 of which have since closed and will not face suspension—for not making headway in safety remediations. Roy suggested canceling the UDs of all the factories.

“Although we have asked those units several times to remediate their safety measures, they did not pay heed to our concerns,” he said. If any accidents take place in those factories, he added, the DIFE will not be held responsible.

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Roy told The Daily Star that he didn’t think finances were an impediment to compliance.

“Rather, I noticed that they lack interest,” he said. “They like to operate their factories without upgrading the compliance and safety standards.”

The DIFE also recommended stripping the UDs of 46 members of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).

“”We will comply with the DIFE instructions,” Mohammad Hatem, senior vice president of the BKMEA, told the Financial Express. “But before that we will also investigate the issue.”

The suspended factories are not members of either the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh or the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (lately succeeded by Nirapon), two groups formed by European and North American brands and retailers respectively in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed more than 1,130 garment workers and injured thousands more.

Bangladesh’s manufacturing industry has been roiled in recent months by a series of disasters outside the capital of Dhaka, including a boiler explosion that killed a woman and a fire at an illegal plastics factory that killed eight people and injured two dozen others.

The second-largest garment exporter after China, Bangladesh’s $30 billion clothing sector accounts for 80 percent of the its export earnings and 16 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.Roughly 3.5 million workers in 4,800 factories produce clothing for some of biggest retailers in the world, including H&M, Uniqlo and Zara.