Garment factory owners' continued indifferent attitude towards workplace safety and labour rights following the recent industrial disasters will destroy the sector's prospects in the global market, Dan Mozena, US ambassador to Bangladesh, said yesterday.
“I call on all owners to reject the 'business as usual' attitude and to lead enthusiastically and creatively the transformation of the sector,” he said at the screening of a documentary, It's Not All About Price Tag.
He said some owners are opposed to bringing their factories to international standards for worker safety and labour rights, claiming these standards to be too high.
“To me, the unstated but clear message from these owners was that since orders keep coming, since profits keep mounting, why should I incur additional costs in meeting these higher standards? To me, the message seemed to be: let's go back to business as usual."
Mozena said such attitude is “recipe for more Tazreen Fashions and Rana Plaza tragedies”, which will destroy the prospects for the garment sector in the global marketplace, while urging all parties to collaborate to ensure they are never repeated.
“I believe the apparel sector will choose a path that makes the brand Bangladesh a preferred brand that buyers and consumers want to buy.”
The US envoy, however, went on to acknowledge the steps taken by the government and some garment factories in bringing the sector to international standards in terms of fire safety, structural soundness of the factory and workers' rights to freely associate and organise following the twin industrial disasters.
Between 2011 and 2012, one union got registration on average, but since January 2013 90 unions got government registration, he said. But there are challenges such as recruiting and deploying safety and labour inspectors and creating a publicly accessible database that shows inspection results in each factory, Mozena said, while calling for reforms and implementation of the labour law to make it applicable to the export processing zones.
State Minister for Labour Mujibul Haque Chunnu stressed the need for improving owner-worker relations.
He said maximum conditions for restoration of GSP facility have been fulfilled. “The rest are in process. We have made registration of trade unions easy,” he said, while citing the recruitment of 42 factory inspectors already and 200 more by March-April this year.
The documentary directed by Mohammad Mufazzal, a journalist, sheds light on the country's garment sector and its millions of workers toiling in factories, with the Rana Plaza collapse at the centre of the theme. The price tag of a garment item, determined at the buyers' end, is just part of the picture, according to the documentary-maker.
Hard bargaining, secret cuts and in some cases the inhumane behaviour and hazardous working conditions are the dark chapters of the industry, Mufazzal said.
“The price tag does not reflect the sufferings of the garment workers often trapped in hazardous conditions."