Leaving Bangladesh not a solution
Global clothing industry, including that of Bangladesh, must work with governments and local groups to improve factory safety and working condition, said Transparency International (TI) yesterday.
Referring to media reports, TI's Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia chapters in a statement said some companies were backing away from Bangladesh sending a wrong signal about their commitment to workers' rights and fighting corruption.
The anti-corruption group said those companies should lobby the government for a legal reform to uplift the integrity in the sector and dedicate greater resources to government officials responsible for safety inspection.
Two major factory disasters, a building collapse and a fire incident, had drawn the world's attention to the working condition in Bangladesh and companies that source products from here. Corruption was one of the factors making it harder to tackle these problems, the statement said.
"The companies leaving in the face of such tragedies, or to avoid greater regulation, will only be punishing the victims of corruption rather than the perpetrators," said Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh.
He said the alternative to dumping business in Bangladesh was to work with the government on ensuring that factories complied with safety rules.
The TI chapters commended the initiatives taken by some companies, international organisations and local players to support the critically important readymade garment sector, especially the workers' rights.
Negligence, lack of resources, bribery in licensing and permitting, or collusion between factory owners and safety inspections allows facilities to remain even when dangers were identified, said the chapters.
They said the Rana Plaza building, which collapsed on April 24 killing more than 1,000 people, had been allegedly constructed on an illegally occupied piece of land and it lacked permission for extra floors.
The statement said Tazreen factory had three illegal floors and no emergency exit. It had lost the safety certificate months before the blaze incident that killed 112 people on November 24, 2012.
However, corruption was not checked in Bangladesh, said the statement, adding that nine of the world's 10 biggest clothing producers scored less than 50 out of 100 in TI's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, where zero suggests extreme corruption and 100 perfectly clean.
This suggests widespread corruption risk that can make safety inspection vulnerable to bribery, according to the statement.
"The legacy of the Savar tragedy should not be to scare business and investment away from Bangladesh, but to underscore the importance of conducting business with responsibility and integrity," said Iftekharuzzaman.
The Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia chapters of TI emphasised the need for stronger enforcement of laws with greater human, professional, legal and institutional capacity to prevent such disasters.
It is the duty of the governments to enact appropriate laws in consultation with public and trade unions to assure safe working condition and corruption free investment, they observed.
The chapters also emphasised the shared responsibilities of consumers, mainly those of the developed world, to demand for ethically-made products.
A big responsibility also lay within the governments in developed countries to assure that their companies met national and international labour standards and did not engage in corrupt practices in conducting business in other countries, added the TI statement.