Bangladesh must upgrade worker safety to fix reputation crisis
From left, Mortoza Tarafder, trade commissioner at the Canadian High Commission; Heather Cruden, Canadian high commissioner; Atiur Rahman, governor of Bangladesh Bank, and KM Khaled, president of Canada Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, pose at the launch of a book on corporate social responsibility in Dhaka yesterday. Photo: CanCham
Bangladesh must take concrete measures to promote occupational safety at garment factories, Canadian High Commissioner Heather Cruden said yesterday.
Like many other countries, Canada remains concerned about dangerous working conditions in the garment sector, as evidenced by the recent factory collapse in Savar and the deadly Tazreen fire in November last year, Cruden said.
“Canada expects all of its trading partners to ensure safe working conditions consistent with international standards.”
Cruden spoke at the launch of a book on international standard social responsibility co-organised by the Canadian High Commission and Canada Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry at Canada Club in Dhaka.
“I hope this guidebook on social responsibility will inspire companies operating in Bangladesh to develop and implement socially responsible business models and practices.”
Bangladesh has the potential to become a leader and innovator with corporate social responsibility, and she hoped the guidebook will be the first step, she said.
“The foundations of an effective health and safety system include clearly defined responsibilities, the participation of employers, workers and their representatives in workplace health and safety committees, the right of workers to be informed and the right to refuse dangerous work.”
“Bangladesh is having a reputational crisis. But it is not just its reputation which is at stake -- these are serious issues that need to be addressed by all parties involved.”
The private sector needs to work with the government to address workplace safety issues so that international buyers have the necessary confidence to continue to do business in Bangladesh, she said.
Canada and Bangladesh enjoy friendly relations and bilateral trade between the two is reaching new heights, with the value of bilateral merchandise trade having reached $1.6 billion in 2012, she said.
As the banking regulator, Bangladesh Bank took a number of concrete measures after the Savar building collapse, said its governor Atiur Rahman.
BB issued two major circulars to ensure that no financial institutions can lend money to any non-compliant factories in the country, he said.
The central bank has also arranged over Tk 90 crore from banks and non-bank financial institutions to support the victims of Savar tragedy, Rahman said.
The regulator and the Association of Bankers, Bangladesh are also jointly working to create a special fund to continue their campaign on compliance of apparel factories, he said.
The fund will be used for capacity development of the fire brigade and help them purchase necessary equipment, Rahman said.
The central bank has also created a fund of Tk 100 crore with the assistance of Japan International Cooperation Agency for the apparel sector, he said.
From the fund, small and medium enterprises will get soft loans to increase the load-carrying capacity of the buildings that house readymade garment factories, he said.
Rahman said Bangladesh is seriously working to address the workplace safety and rights of workers in the apparel industry.
Direct CSR expenditure of all banks increased by 5.5 times to Tk 304.67 crore in 2012 from Tk 55.38 crore in 2009, according to the latest available data.
“I am trying to give a message to the international community that not only the Bangladesh government but also the financial regulator is also working on it.” “It is not the time to abandon Bangladesh. Rather help the country overcome the situation,” said the governor.
KM Khaled, president of CanCham, said 5,000 copies of the guidebook have been printed for free distribution among leading businesses in Bangladesh.
The book is also made available on the Canadian High Commission's website, he said.
Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, also attended the event.