On 24 April, 2013 in Dhaka, the nine-story Rana Plaza building collapsed, killing 1,138 and injuring more than 2,500 workers. This accident did not take only hundreds of life, it also took away the reputation of Bangladesh garments industry. The world calls for rejecting Bangladeshi products, but the situation is completely different now, as the people of Bangladesh know how to fight against obstacles.

“Rana Plaza incident was a wakeup call for us. The owner and local government were responsible for the lack of proper monitoring of the accident. It taught a lot to the nation. We have a big industry, so it is not unusual to occur an accident. However, we must have to be aware so that such incidents will not happen anymore, said Md. Nasir Uddin, Director of BGMEA and Managing Director of Sadma Fashion Wear Ltd.

In this regard, local garment entrepreneurs put more than $1 bn to remediate the factories for preventing such tragedies in future. As per the recommendations of the inspection agencies, three bodies, including Accord, Alliance, and National Initiative, were formed to fix three kinds of “loopholes” relating to the structural, fire and electrical issues.

According to BGMEA, 3,978 factories have been inspected for building, fire and electrical safety under the combined efforts of the three safety initiatives.”The progress achieved in fortifying worker safety in the last five years, after Rana Plaza building collapse, has been unprecedented and serves as a model for other countries to follow,” said Alliance Executive Director, Ambassador James Moriarty. Gagan Rajbhandari, Officer-in-Charge of International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Bangladesh, said, “Five years from Rana Plaza [tragedy], workplace safety in the garment industry has certainly improved.

Progress by Alliance

Since 2013, the Alliance has brought a significant change on safety within Alliance-affiliated factories. Remediation across more than 600 factories is 90 per cent complete; 1.4 mn workers in nearly 1,000 factories have access to the 24-hour Alliance helpline; 1.5 mn workers have been trained in fire safety, and democratically elected Worker Safety Committees have been established in nearly 200 factories. The 1.2 mn women and men who earn a living in Alliance factories now work in buildings that are structurally sound, free of fire hazards and equipped with modern electrical systems, sprinklers and fire doors.

Progress by Accord

The safety in Bangladesh RMG factories covered by the Accord has also improved noticeably since 2013. Safety in Accord affiliated RMG factories have improved substantially as 84.1 per cent. According to Rob Wayss, Executive Director and Acting Chief Safety Inspector of European inspection agency the Accord, “Accord currently has approximately 1,625 covered supplier factories. Some 88,443 safety hazards, in total, were identified in Accord’s initial inspections of these factories. Some 74,386 of these safety hazards have been fixed.”

Green factory revolution

Bangladesh’s export-oriented RMG sector is improving its status as a green industry. Md. Nasir Uddin mentioned, “At present, we have 67 green factories. The top rated factory in the USGBC ranking is now in Bangladesh. Now the people who are making new factory keeping the green matter in their consideration.” Of the 67 factories, 13 have been rated platinum, 20 gold, and five silver. At least 222 more factories have been registered with the USGBC for the LEED certification.

Industry insiders say the number of green factories are increasing as global retailers are looking for eco-friendly apparel manufacturers since consumers around the world are growing concerned about how the production of their clothes affect the environment.

“Within next two years, three of the four factories of Sadma Fashion Wear Ltd. will be completely green. Local and international media should highlight this issue to facilitate positive branding except focusing only on negative issues,” Md. Nasir Uddin added.

To encourage all industries to establish eco-friendly factories, the government is providing loans at 9 per cent interest, especially to the RMG sector. In the 2015-16 fiscal year, banks and other financial institutions disbursed Tk46,590 cr in loans, of that amount, Tk39,695 cr went to green factories, most of which are in the RMG sector, according to the Bangladesh Bank.

Trade union upraised

The registration of the trade unions in the readymade garment sector has increased significantly after Rana Plaza incident and now the number of trade unions is 632. Unions have the power to represent the concerns of workers, who in turn can take combined action on decisions, which affect their safety and security.

Finally, there are still many things to do to continue remediation of RMG factories and to inspire a culture and practice of occupational safety and health. In this regard, buyers should contribute not only by giving a suggestion but also by providing financial support.