Human Rights Watch today called upon Bangladesh government to make public the findings of its safety inspections at garment factories.
Reports should be published in Bangla as well as English so that they are accessible to workers, the New York based rights organisation said in a report.
“Efforts to make the Bangladesh garment industry safer and protect the rights of workers will not succeed unless details of all factory inspections are made public,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director.
“Workers need this information so they can make informed decisions about whether it is safe to enter their factories,” he said.
The report said the government and retailers have largely failed to make public the findings of the inspections ordered after the Rana Plaza catastrophe.
More than 1,100 workers died after they were persuaded, and in some cases forced, by their employers to return to Rana Plaza a day after they evacuated because large cracks appeared in the building’s walls.
As a result of the tragedy, the Bangladesh government and western retailers are engaged in inspecting more than 3,500 garment factories for structural integrity and fire and electrical safety. Groups conducting inspections have committed to releasing details of their findings, but more than one year after the deadly disaster, reports on fewer than 40 factories have been published so far by nongovernmental groups.
The government has published no information on the inspections that it has carried out, the report alleged.
In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza collapse, the Bangladesh government and retailers entered into several different agreements to ensure workplace safety for workers. The Bangladesh government is responsible for inspecting about 1,500 factories, many of which do sub-contracting work. Some are in shared buildings and are believed by experts to be the most at risk.
In a programme supported by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and funded by the European Union, the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) staff have already inspected more than 250 of these factories.
The government and ILO have set up a website to publish the inspection data, but to date nothing has been published.
A spokesman for the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments said no decision had yet been taken on when the results of the investigations by BUET would be made public, the report added.
A group of 26 North American retailers, who work together as members of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, is inspecting about 680 factories. It has recently published the details of fire, structural, and electrical safety inspections of 28 factories. All of the factories require remedial work. The reports are in English, and include some photographs.
A second body formed by 175 mainly European retailers is currently inspecting 1,545 factories. This has made public details of ten factory inspections. The reports, which are designed to be easily understood by workers, are written in Bangla as well as English, and include photographs.
The reports state that all ten factories inspected have safety problems that still need to be addressed.
“Ensuring workers know their rights, and can refuse work in an unsafe building, would be the most fitting tribute to the sacrifices made by workers at Rana Plaza,” Robertson said. “Worker safety will benefit if the Bangladesh garment industry becomes more open and transparent.”
It is also important that the organisations, governments, and companies involved in making Bangladesh’s garment factories safer support efforts to organise trade unions.
“Independent trade unions are key to ensuring that workers are not mistreated or forced to work in unsafe factories,” Robertson said. “The government needs to make sure that these anti-union activities are stopped immediately.”