INSPECTION GUIDELINE OF THE ALLIANCE AND ACCORD IS CONTRARY TO THE COUNTRY’S EXISTING REGULATION
Alliance and Accord, the two separate platforms of the American-Canadian and EU retailers, have started inspection of garment factories in the country amidst acute protest from the BGMEA side. The BGMEA, apex trade body of the country’s apparel makers, however, is opposing the inspection process of the Accord and Alliance saying the inspection guideline likely to bring a threat to the country’s largest export earning sector, the apparel industry.
“The RMG sector is under threat, our garment industry is going through a critical time”, said Atiqul Islam, President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, BGMEA, explaining that the inspection guideline of the Alliance and Accord is contrary to the country’s existing regulation in fire and building safety. The imposition of the western guideline likely to force many factories to shut, he feared.
Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety is a platform of the 26 American-Canadian retailers while Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is a platform of the 150 EU retailers. After the deadly Rana Plaza collapse, the retailers of the EU and America-Canada had formed the platforms to work jointly to improve the work place conditions of the RMG sector of the country.
During the formation of the said unities, it was said that the Accord and Alliance will inspect the factories from where they sources apparels. As a result Accord will inspect 800 factories while the Alliance were have to inspect 700 factories they sources apparels.
Later, Alliance, setting up a zonal office in Dhaka, started its operation on September last year. The platform so far inspected 200 RMG factories. On the other hand Accord also went into operation, setting up offices and inspecting factories, from January last.
Atiqul Islam, BGMEA President at a meeting with the buyers and retailers requested the Accord and the Alliance to take realistic and pragmatic measures in the process of inspection of the factories.
BGMEA data suggests that the Alliance has been following National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a standard of US to ensure fire safety, while inspecting factory buildings in the country. BGMEA leaders said that Bangladesh garment factories have been maintaining the fire safety measures as per the law of the land(Bangladesh National Building Code). As a result, the application of rules under the NFPA would result disarray in the sector.
Besides, the Alliance has been inspecting the factories considering sprinkler, fire escape, fire wall and structures and fire window provisions which the BGMEA say may cause hindrance to establishing better fire safety.
The BGMEA has also disagreed on the demands of establishing hotlines for empowering the workers of the buyers. BGMEA president Atiqul Islam said that “We understand that the hotline concept has a positive spirit but it may be misused in terms of making false reporting”.
At a program held recently, Srinivas Reddy, Country Director of International Labour Organisation (ILO) also opined that the concerns of the apparel makers on the standards and inspection process should be listened carefully as they are valid ones.
Meanwhile Accord in press release given on 14th January mentioned that the standards of inspection are largely based on the Bangladesh National Building Code and are the product of discussions between the Accord, the National Tripartite Plan of Action, and the Alliance initiated and facilitated by the International Labour Organization. They also informed that additional discussions took place between Accord and Alliance engineers resulting in a standard which is substantively the same.
The BGMEA later hold a discussion meeting in a bid to get support from the government to settle down the issue. Held at the NoorulQuader Auditorium at BGMEA, Dr. Engineer Mosharraf Hossain was the chief guest. The participants at the meeting presented the horrible effect of the country’s RMG sector if Accord and Alliance goes with the international standard of fire and building safety guideline. Listening to the presentation, the minister said that the government will take necessary steps to stop such inspection process. He also said that discussing with the Prime Minister; necessary steps will be taken in this regard.
Reaz-Bin-Mahmud, Vice-President of BGMEA while talking to this correspondent said “the guideline of the Accord and Alliance will harm the country’s RMG sector as the guideline will not go with the context of our country”.
On the other hand, the Alliance after six months of its operation has published a survey, ‘Worker Baseline Survey’ conducted in November to December 2013, among more than 3,200 workers in 28 garment factories in Bangladesh.
The survey said that over 47 percent RMG workers of the country feel that they cannot escape the factory buildings quickly in case of emergency while 30 percent think there is a high risk of fire in the buildings they are working.
Some 65 percent workers of the sector prefer to work on a low floor of a building for safety reasons; even working on an upper floor offers additional financial rewards.
87 percent have participated in a fire evacuation drill in the last three months, while 73 percent say that health and safety was part of their orientation training and 45 percent say that they had not been trained on fire safety.
The survey also pointed that the trainings are conducted at a long interval and fail to maintain standards. In the event of an emergency, most workers, 82 percent, know that they need to leave the area using designated escape routes whenever possible. However, a considerable section of workers think they should find shelters in a safe place inside the building or take the elevator to exit the building.
Certain groups of workers are at particular risks and would benefit from special consideration as new training methodologies have already been developed, the survey said.
Though 80 percent of the garment workers are female, they intend to have a lower level of knowledge than their male counterparts. They are also less active in health and safety committee activities, contacting worker representatives and voicing their concerns.
Workers with less education are inclined to have a lower level of awareness, whereas those who are better educated do a better job of recognizing fire risk.
Workers between the age of 14 and 17 feel that their work constitutes a bigger health risks than adult workers. Close to half of younger workers (49 percent) think their jobs will negatively impact their health at least to some extent.
The primary purpose of the survey and off-site interviews was to better understand the current level of awareness of health and safety risks and what workers believe needs to be done to improve safety and reduce risk.
The survey consisted of 50 questions assessing workers’ perspective on health and safety from seven dimensions: knowledge, awareness, training, experience, worker integration, perception of risks at work and perception of management concern for health and safety.
ISSUE » FEBRUARY , 2014