THE decision to put in place a fire inspection team to check on whether workers are being paid proper wages, structural integrity of buildings and fire safety issues of a hundred factories in the next week sounds like a step in the right direction. The problem is that there are some 5,000 plus factories in the country, and while the latest “drive” led by a full member of the cabinet grabs all the attention, solving the systemic problems the RMG sector suffers from will take serious political will and commitment over the long run.
As pointed out correctly by a leading labour rights activist, the RMG sector has been given the last opportunity to prove capable of reforming itself and adhering to nationally and internationally acceptable compliance standards. What it boils down to essentially is that the different stakeholders — workers, factory owners and the government under the counsel of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) must thrash out and ink a comprehensive and workable agreement on May 9. Eyewash inspections simply can’t do anymore. Too many lives have been lost and scenes of the carnage of the latest two incidents, i.e. Tazreen Fashions and Rana Plaza have been viewed by millions across the globe.
Inspections have taken place in the past too. After the Tazreen fire, Department of Factory Inspection inspected 2,381 factories. It was found that some 300 factories were operating without any license. Unless sufficient inspectors are recruited and empowered to levy heavy penalties on violators of the building code, it is feared that recurrence of disasters like the Rana Plaza will simply continue. One may only hope that the government will act this time decisively to help protect the lives of workers and preserve the largest foreign exchange earning sector of the economy.