Bangladesh Garment Exports Rise 16 Percent Even as Human Rights' Violations Persist

Three months after the collapse of the Rana plaza factory in Bangladesh, which killed over 1100 workers, the garment industry is still struggling to enforce safety reform.
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Hayley Phelan
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Three months after the collapse of the Rana plaza factory in Bangladesh, which killed over 1100 workers, the garment industry is still struggling to enforce safety reform.
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Three months after the collapse of the Rana plaza factory in Bangladesh, which killed over 1100 workers, the garment industry is still struggling to enforce safety reform.

Despite the grim reality check, factory conditions have not yet improved. Reuters today released a video showing a surprise safety check at Miami Garments, a factory in Bangladesh. What they found was startling:

First, the factory is housed in a residential building. Inspectors noted this single narrow exit staircase, weak floors and columns and only one fire extinguisher in the entire building.

Despite these very obvious violations, the building was given a passing grade, being assessed as "relatively compliant with standards."

But not all factories are receiving inadequate attention. Reuters reports that while "some factories are getting checked up to six times by various agencies" the quality of inspection varies greatly between agencies. With no definitive industry standard set, it's hard for each factory to be judged equally and fairly.

This is one of the issues that, according to WWD, Bangladeshi employers are pushing the Bangladesh Safety Accord to address over the next few days, as talks on how to implement the plan begin. Currently, each retail company sets their own safety checklist for their factory; since companies that produce out of Bangladesh hail from all over the world, this means that checklists can vary greatly between factories.

“Sometimes it is just something as simple as the height or location of fire safety equipment, which has different stipulations by each retailer, and it makes it really hard for the manufacturer,” Abaz Ahmed, who has a manufacturing unit for t-shirts in Dhaka, told the trade. Ahmed is hoping the Accord will come up with standardized check lists for all factories. Employers also want the Accord to "ensure better prices without being squeezed by vendors as much as they have been in the past."

Another issue the Accord's delegation will be addressing is the lack of Bangladeshi representation. Christy Hoffman of UNI Global Union, who sits on the plan's five-member international delegation, told WWD they would be meeting with government officials as well as with officials of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGFMEA) to discuss how the plan will be implemented.

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Even though there remains a massive list of complicated issues to address, the delegation remains hopeful that the Accord's plan for safety reform, the general tenets of which were agreed upon in May, will be able to be implemented soon. With reports like the one from Reuters' still coming in, there's greater urgency to address issues now.

“We need approvals from the Bangladesh government, and we’re very hopeful that we can get it done within the next few months,” Hoffman said. “We’re hoping that this could be facilitated to open as soon as possible, and that is part of the agenda for our discussions with government officials to help get this done very quickly, hopefully before the end of this year.”

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh police are still dealing with the criminal case against Rana plaza's owner Sohel Rana, Bloomberg is reporting. Rana is one of 21 people arrested in connection to the building collapse. Rana is said to have noticed the cracks earlier and forced workers to return to the factory. Police say he could now be facing manslaughter charges, as opposed to criminal negligence.

But while human rights and labor groups rally to create better industry standards, and while the police continue to investigate the Rana collapse, consumers are unfazed. Reuters reports that the country's garment exports rose 16 percent last month.