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Refusing to throw in the towel on factory safety in Bangladesh

Four years on since the disastrous collapse of the Rana Plaza building, have things changed in the Bangladesh garment industry? Taking the case of one relatively small manufacturer on the outskirts of Dhaka, the answer appears to be yes.

Feature | Dhaka, Bangladesh | 28 April 2017

DHAKA, Bangladesh (ILO News) – Like all export-oriented garment factories in Bangladesh, Towel Tex underwent an inspection after Rana Plaza to assess its structural, fire and electrical safety.

Producing some 1.4 million terry towels per month for export to countries like Canada and the Czech Republic, Towel Tex was inspected by a government initiative supported by the ILO in March 2015.

Following the inspection recommendations, the factory made a number of changes as General Manager Anwar Hossain explains.

“Previously, the dyeing shed and the boiler room were housed under the same roof, so we built a wall to separate them. The walk ways on factory floor were also 0.77 metres wide and we have widened them to 0.9 metres to meet the rules,” says Anwar pointing to the aisle markers on the second storey production floor.

Towel Tex Ltd General Manager Anwar Hossain
Towel Tex now also receives regular visits from officers of the labour inspectorate.

“I had never even heard of the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments. But now we have regular surprise inspections, almost one a quarter.”

Increasingly, says Anwar, the inspectors are becoming more cooperative and helpful with their recommendations.

While previously management would do what it thought would work, now with the regular inspections they know exactly what to do to optimise safety.

“We want to be compliant, but without inspections we could never be sure,” he adds, while pointing out exit lights that installed in line with the factory’s corrective action plan
“We have also put doors on our electrical switch boards and developed an evacuation plan,” Anwar says.

Towel Tex Ltd owner Md Shahadat Hossain Sohel explains the changes made to improve safety in the factory
Factory owner, Md Shahadat Hossain Sohel expressed his appreciation at the more proactive approach of the regulators.

“The fire department are very cooperative and helpful. We never had this kind of attention before,” he says.

Mr Sohel takes long-term view to meeting the costs of carrying out the safety improvements.

“Clients don’t just want a supplier, they prefer a partner. The cost of remediation work can be high, but in the overall scheme of things it is worth it. At the end of the day, it is my factory not theirs. Although buyers don’t raise their rates to account for safety improvements, I have to be the one to make sure that the workers are safe and cared for.”

ILO Country Director Srinivas Reddy recognized the progress made over the past four years to enhance safety but highlighted the need for efforts to continue.

“Much has been done by government, employers and workers organizations to create safer workplaces in the garment industry. It is vital however that this work continues until all garment factories are remediated and a culture of safety embracing all workers has been established.”

Towel Tex was one of 1,549 garment factories inspected under a Government of Bangladesh initiative supported by the ILO’s Improving Working Conditions in the Ready Made Garment Sector programme. Funded by Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom the programme also helps strengthen the capacity of the labour inspectorate as well as enhance Occupational Safety and Health in the sector.

For more information:

Steve Needham
ILO Communication officer in Bangladesh