BGMEA came down heavily upon inspections conducted by the Accord and Alliance inspectors due to which some garment factories have already been shut down after faults were found in their construction. They expressed their resentment and fears on the conference named “Sharing of Views on Current Scenario of RMG Sector” at Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) premises in Dhaka yesterday on 10-03-2014. The meeting was attended by the Commerce Minister Mr. Tofail Ahmed.
In the conference, Mr. SM Mannan Kochi, second vice president of BGMEA alleged that although the buyers did not increase the prices as per their promise, they are shutting down factories in the name of compliance. Mr. Nasiruddin Ahmed Chowdhury, first vice president of BGMEA said that he feared that around 60% factory are likely to face shut down in the backdrop of the ongoing inspection conducted by Accord and Alliance and it is really difficult to get rid of this.
As of Friday, 7 March 2014, the Alliance has inspected over 240 factories while the Accord engineers inspected around 70 factories and following the inspection a review panel ordered to suspend production of two factories, namely Softex and Fame Sweater Limited. Fame Sweater Limited has been asked to minimize loads on floor, strengthen column and then to restart production after four days of the improvement, while Softex have been asked to suspend production and make quick improvements on the building structure. Earlier on the first week of March, 3 factories have already caught fire, but fortunately without any great injuries of casualties.
Since February the BGMEA has repeatedly been stressing on funds and time for factory remediation, and have mentioned that improving factory conditions will not be possible if sufficient time of at least 2 or 3 years are not provided along with easily available funds. They also called on Alliance and Accord to allow sufficient time and allocate adequate fund to complete the building remediation process in RMG industry successfully.
Along with the Accord and the Alliance, the US GSP (General System of Preference) is also a pressing issue for the government, added with the EU envoy William Hannah’s dissatisfaction on recent progress with worker rights and building conditions as stressed by him in a program he visited to showcase the CARE project for garment workers — Solidarity and Empowerment through Education, Motivation and Awareness (SEEMA) funded by the EU. In a move to regain the confidence of trade partners, the Bangladesh Commerce Minister informed that soon the government is going to convert Workers Welfare Associations (WWA) into trade unions to allow the ready made garment workers for the formation of trade unions at the factories located at the Export Processing Zones (EPZs).
Apart from sourcing factories, recent factory inspections by the Accord and Alliance are increasingly seen as a threat to the sub contracting factories in the Industry. The subcontracting factories cut and make garments in contracts and are paid for it, which is known as cutting and making (CM) charge. Of the payment made by the buyers for a manufactured product, the subcontractors get 30-50% while the exporters receive the remaining part. In most cases the CM has not yet increased at par with the production cost that has increased substantially in last few years due to inflation and now the new minimum wage, and buyers also are yet to increase price for their orders. Such adverse conditions often put a huge amount of pressure on subcontracting factories as well as the suppliers to practice diverse options to pull out a profit. While the subcontractors claim that their factories are not allowed to perform the job for the supplier without permission of the respective buyers, the reality showed a different picture in testing situations. Whenever there is an accident or if worker right abuses or structural problems of some subcontracting factories are caught on camera or recorded with evidences to be presented to public the buyers have always denied the knowledge of their goods being made in those factories. According to the BGMEA, around 1,200 factories openly do subcontracting jobs in the country employing nearly 1 million workers, however, several hundreds of subcontracting factories operate throughout Bangladesh among whom many are still unlicensed.
The main challenges in the recent move are expected to be cooperation from factory owners to comply, and the buyers in allowing proper finances for the building remediation process, increasing the price they pay for their goods, and the time given to the factory owners. The security of jobs of millions of workers are also a question that cannot be ignored in the drive for safety.
Buyers need to come forward in every scenario as they remain at the top of the pyramid. Apart from the initiatives of the accord and alliance, the unfortunate divide, and positive initiatives by some brands (e.g. C&A and Primark), there are initiatives like H&M’s Business Call to Action (BCtA) in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Swedish Development Agency (SIDA), where the company will invest in skills training that will benefit an estimated 5000 individuals by 2016 are also setting new trends of direct involvement by the brand towards its workers in the sourcing countries. However, lack of responsibility is still evident as many buyers of Tazreen and Rana Plaza are yet to come forward with the required compensation in support of the workers who have earned them their profits.
These are not only testing times for the Bangladeshi factories to comply, but also for the buyers to actually come forward in good faith as well as the efficiency of the accord and alliance strategy for safety.
In hope for a better future for those who drive the engines of economy,