Owners probe owners' fault
A woman along with her son and relatives cries her heart out in front of collapsed Rana Plaza in Savar yesterday. Shariful Islam, her husband, is one of those ill-fated workers who were in the building when it caved on April 24. Photo: Anisur Rahman
The BGMEA's initiatives to ensure safety compliance in apparel factories seem to be an eyewash to cover up the faults of factory owners.
The trade body forms committees and taskforces after accidents in garment factories, but they never come up with any concrete findings that would eventually help ensure workers' safety in factories.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association had formed a committee to probe the Spectrum Sweater factory collapse that killed 64 workers in April 2005. The committee, led by BGMEA member Ali Azam Khan, was asked to submit a report in seven days, but it has yet to do so even after seven years.
Following a devastating fire at Tazreen Fashions in November 2012, the trade body formed a taskforce to check whether apparel factories were complying with safety regulations.
The then BGMEA chief headed the 15-member taskforce comprised of experts, buyers' representatives, BGMEA members and government officials.
The taskforce was supposed to visit at least 10 factories to prepare a report that would help factories avoid large-scale disasters. But after visiting only four factories, the taskforce stopped working.
The collapse of Rana Plaza on April 24, which left at least 388 people dead, has called into question the BGMEA's role in ensuring workers' safety in factories.
As in previous times, the BGMEA formed a nine-member committee to investigate the collapse of Rana Plaza that housed five factories. SM Mannan Kochi, the second vice-president of the BGMEA, has been made convener of the committee that will submit its report within 10 days of its formation.
BGMEA President Atiqul Islam said, “We hope the reasons for the building's collapse will be identified in the probe report.”
M Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, who was at the helm of the BGMEA when the Tazreen fire incident took place, said the trade body has to shoulder part of the blame for not acting strongly when the sector faces a disaster.
"We are sincere, but we lack expertise. And we have to depend on experts," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
He, however, said things were changing. "We had urged the owners of the factories inside Rana Plaza to surrender and they complied.
"Our probe report on the Tazreen fire stated that the building's design was faulty. Its ground floor was illegally used as a warehouse, and the staircase to the exit ended inside the factory."
"It implies that we did not lack sincerity," said Mohiuddin.
"We have to take steps. There is no alternative to that. Otherwise, we will not be able to retain the manufacturing base," he said.
Atiqul said a day before the building's collapse, the trade body had asked the owners of the five factories not to operate their units inside Rana Plaza in Savar until the building had been checked by experts.
But the factory owners resumed the operation of the units without informing the BGMEA, he claimed.
Labour leaders have expressed their frustration over the BGMEA's failure to ensure workers' safety in apparel factories.
Nazma Akhter, president of Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, said, “It seems that workers have no rights and dignity in Bangladesh.” The BGMEA had utterly failed to protect the workers, she said.
“It [the BGMEA] formed committees just for show. None of its reports has ever blamed factory owners for any accidents,” said Akhter.
Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, assistant executive director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), feels the need for new laws to ensure workers' safety in apparel factories.
“Special laws and speedy trial tribunals are required to try those responsible for the deaths of workers,” said Ahmmed.
The BGMEA is the largest trade body that has more than 5,000 registered members -- both general and associate.
BGMEA data show the trade body earned Tk 43 crore in 2012 against Tk 36 crore a year ago. And its expenditure stood at Tk 37 crore in 2012, which was Tk 33 crore in 2011.