Bangladesh’s leading trade group for garment manufacturers inked an agreement with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Sunday to improve occupational safety and health at dozens of the South Asian nation’s factories.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) will train 700 safety-committee representatives from 75 factories to identify, assess and manage potential fire, infrastructure and Covid-19 hazards, continuing the “momentum of workplace safety” that emerged in the wake of the 2013 multi-factory Rana Plaza collapse, which killed 1,134 workers and injured thousands more just outside the capital of Dhaka.
“Safety committees bring together management and workers to help create and maintain [a] safe and healthy working environment,” George Faller, chief technical advisor of the ILO’s Improving Working Conditions in the RMG Sector Programme, said in a statement. “These committees will prevent many workplace accidents and diseases once they are equipped with proper skills and tools, and allowed to function as per the law.”
Bangladeshi labor law requires all organizations with 50 or more employees to establish safety committees, comprising an equal number of representatives from workers and employers, to monitor workplace conditions, implement improvements and communicate safety issues. Following the training, the upskilled representatives will be able to “spread the awareness” among their roughly 50,000 colleagues, the BGMEA said.
“The safety of our workers is our priority,” said BGMEA president Faruque Hassan. “Hence, we joined hands with the ILO to invest in strong and functional safety committees which will help our industry to overcome the safety and health crisis posed by the pandemic and mitigate other occupational risks.”
The news comes on the heels of reports that questioned whether remediation across Bangladesh’s 4,000 garment factories was happening quickly enough, particularly with those that fall outside the purview of the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, previously known as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
According to September’s Centre for Policy Dialogue study, the number of worker injuries in predominantly medium and large ready-made garment factories rose by nearly 24 percent between 2019 and 2020, which the Dhaka-based think tank found “difficult to explain” because of the sector’s overall strides in industrial safety.
The existence of safety committees, which were required as part of the amended 2013 Bangladesh Labour Act, has made little difference, since they were present in the majority of garment-factory accidents that took place, the study said. It blamed the committees’ current “poor functioning” and factories’ overall lack of coordination, monitoring and enforcement for the occurrences.
“The existence of safety committees in these factories could not contain industrial accidents,” the Centre for Policy Dialogue said. “In other words, the lack of responsibility of the concerned institutions at the factories, such as the safety committee, caused the occurrences of the industrial accidents.”
As of July 2021, the organization said, more than 75 percent of garment factories in Bangladesh have set up a safety committee, compared with less than 7 percent of non-garment factories.