BANGLADESH — Even as the issue of safety remains in the spotlight in the Bangladesh apparel industry, dangerous working conditions remain.
This story first appeared in the October 6, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A fire at a warehouse of Mega Dyeing Ltd. in Gazipur on Sept. 28 claimed the life of one worker and injured three fire department workers, according to the fire department.
The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh had inspected the factory only a month earlier. The accord, a consortium of 180 brands and retailers, has said that it has finished the factory inspections it originally planned to complete by September.
“The accord’s initial inspections are completed,” Rob Wayss, executive director of its Bangladesh operations, told WWD. “We expect that the parties (the owner, accord brands in the factory, labor) will receive all three reports at all inspected factories by the middle to later part of this month. Right now, the parties from approximately 900 of the 1,100 inspected factories have received all three reports from the accord inspections (fire, electric, building),” he said.
But the Mega Dyeing fire indicates that, even as deadlines to complete factory inspections are being met, and factory remediation is under way in many cases, the problem of fire and electrical safety has not entirely been addressed.
The fire at Mega Dyeing broke out at 3:45 a.m. on the third floor of the building and quickly spread to upper floors through an unprotected elevator shaft, according to officials of the fire department. Officials of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association initially claimed there were no fatalities from the fire.
The accord’s Web site listed the cause of death of the worker as a heart attack, but fire officials suggested it was more likely to be from smoke inhalation. The exact cause of death has not yet been revealed.
The fire itself was brought under control within five hours with 10 units of firefighters from surrounding areas.
According to the accord Web site, Mega Dyeing was inspected for fire and electrical safety by teams from the accord a month earlier, on Aug. 28. The Web site mentions that “the accord engineers have visited the site to investigate the situation” and stressed that the “accord strongly advocates that the only priority of all workers and occupants is to immediately exit the building upon being alerted of fire. Workers should not stay back to try to fight a fire or re-enter the building.”
Factory fires have been a recurring concern in Bangladesh, especially after the Tazreen fire in November 2012, where 111 workers died, followed by a series of other incidents in which workers were injured.
Separately, also in Gazipur, on Sunday, the Israk Spinning Mill had a gas leak in the generator room that caused a fire that injured two workers.
Over the last year, the accord — a binding agreement between mainly international brands and retailers including H&M, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, Primark and C&A led by IndustriAll Global Union and UNI Global Union — has been working toward ensuring safer conditions for workers in the apparel sector in Bangladesh.
There is also the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a consortium of more than 26 brands and retailers from the U.S. and Canada, which completed inspections of more than 587 factories, keeping to its deadline to complete inspections within a year by July.
“There are about 325 or so joint factories that produce for the accord and alliance. We did not inspect those as part of our effort to avoid duplication,” Wayss noted. “We have been working with the alliance over the past few weeks to try to execute that accord decision. This requires receiving the full inspectors’ reports from the inspections done by the alliance. Brad [Lowen, safety inspector of the accord] has formally requested these.
“With the findings in those reports, the accord will create reports in the accord report format to be sent to our brands, factory owners, and labor colleagues,” he said.
Wayss mentioned that any newly listed factories by signatory brands that were not inspected initially will be “inspected by the accord using the same standard as we used in the initial inspections program.”
The focus now shifts to the 1,700 factories that the National Tripartite Committee — which includes the Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology, the Bangladesh government and the International Labor Organization — is investigating.
The NTC, along with the accord and the alliance, aims to do detailed inspections of all 3,500 garment factories in Bangladesh.
“We have submitted inspections of 245 factory buildings which house 360 factories. Many of these buildings house four or five factories,” said Dr. Mehedi Ahmed Ansary, coordinator of the teams and a professor at BUET’s Department of Civil Engineering.
“The target is to finish 500 factories by end-October and to finish almost all of them before the yearend,” Srinivas Reddy, country director for the ILO, told WWD.
Most Western brands do not produce in the factories listed under the NTC list.
But as officials of the BGMEA noted, any of these factories could be enlisted by Western brands at another time, and safety standards for these are as crucial as those that are already a part of the alliance or accord brands.