The government, employers and workers' rights bodies yesterday rolled out a time-bound roadmap backed by the International Labour Organisation to improve labour standards to avoid further tragedies in garment factories.
"The tripartite partners stand united in their resolve to do everything possible to prevent further tragedy," the tripartite partners said in a joint statement at the foreign ministry in Dhaka.
The move, which is expected to appease global buyers under pressure to boycott Bangladesh following the death of at least 551 workers in Rana Plaza collapse, came on the last day of a four-day Dhaka visit from a high-level ILO mission.
"We need actions, not words. We must move forward. We need political will and commitment," said Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, deputy director general of the UN agency for field operations, as the ILO unveiled the six-point short and medium terms measures.
Under the measures, the government will place the amended labour law in June session of parliament for passage.
The law will reflect the tripartite partners' inputs for protecting, in law and practice, the fundamental rights to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, as well as occupational safety and health, the statement said.
The government will assess, by the end of this year, building and fire safety of all active export-oriented ready-made garment factories, and initiate remedial actions, including relocation of unsafe factories, said the declaration.
The tripartite partners called on the ILO to assist in the mobilisation of technical and financial resources required to undertake the assessment.
Under the action plan, the government will recruit, within six months, 200 additional inspectors and ensure that the Department of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Establishments is upgraded to a directorate with an annual regular budget allocation.
"Inspection is one thing but the credibility of the inspection is another thing," Houngbo said.
"I don't expect all the buildings to be inspected in two weeks because it is time-consuming. Let's also be pragmatic. In our view, there is a sense of urgency in addressing all those issues," he said.
The statement said the National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety in the Readymade Garment Industry would be implemented in full, and would extend the scope for including the issue of structural integrity of buildings.
The tripartite partners urged the ILO to organise training programmes for workers, who sustained injuries and suffered disability in the tragic events at Tazreen Fashions, Smart Export Garments and Rana Plaza.
In addition, Bangladesh Garment Manufactures and Exporters Association (BGMEA), and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufactures and Exporters Association (BKMEA) are to redeploy and rehabilitate the RMG workers, who were rendered unemployed following the incidents.
The declaration said the people responsible for the tragic events that occurred over the last six months shall be held accountable.
Houngbo said international buyers are also ready to contribute toward improving safety and labour standards in Bangladesh.
"My understanding is that there is a serious will by the international brands to contribute. It is a matter of global organisations how do we orchestrate everything to make it happen.
"We have to act now. I do believe by doing so we have to call for the international buyers to continue doing business with Bangladesh," said Houngbo, also former prime minister of Togo,
Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque termed the initiative a turning point in Bangladesh's history.
"There is convergence of interest for bringing about a change in the industry. This is not a time for blame game."
European Ambassador to Bangladesh William Hanna, US Ambassador Dan Mozena, Canadian High Commissioner Heather Cruden, United Nations Resident Coordinator Neil Walker and BGMEA President Atiqul Islam were also present.
Experts have welcomed the initiative, saying it was needed for the country's apparel sector that is now under internal and external pressure.
“It is a timely step," said Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of Centre for Policy Dialogue.
"The initiative has been taken at a time when everyone -- international buyers, the EU, the USA, consumers, the world media and even the Pope -- expressed their concern. Our stakeholders, civil society and common people have raised questions about safety standards in factories."
There is no alternative to implementing these steps if the sector wants to fend off the current pressure, said the economist.