A modus operandi for bringing accountability in workplace safety

Comment | Dhaka | 30 December 2019
In May 2013, Bangladesh set up a high-level National Tripartite Committee (NTC) to monitor the implementation of a National Tripartite Plan of Action (NTPA) to ensure fire safety and structural integrity in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector. The committee comprised of key RMG and knitwear industry stakeholders including government agencies, academic institution, employers’ organisations and trade unions.

In the same year, with the ILO’s technical assistance, the NTC harmonized fire and structural safety standards in Bangladesh and conducted assessment of structural, fire and electrical safety of all exporting ready-made garment factories. Based on the findings of the assessment reports, the factories were then required to undertake remediation work to comply with national building safety standards. To oversee the remediation process, a
Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) was established by the labour inspectorate together with other industry regulators who urged for an escalation protocol to address non-compliance and delay in the remediation process.

At the 15th meeting of the NTC held in July 2019, an Escalation (Compliance) Protocol for remediation was approved by the Bangladesh government.
Maurice L Brooks, Workplace Safety Expert of ILO’s ready-made garment (RMG) programme in Bangladesh sheds light on this effort.

Why does the Bangladesh ready-made garment industry need an Escalation Protocol?
The NTC endorsed Escalation Protocol ensures that factories are meeting targeted timelines for compliance.

The protocol outlines the roles and responsibilities of relevant regulatory bodies, the review panel as well as teams of engineers, case handlers and data managers who are tasked to follow up on remediation work. Additionally the protocol details six rounds of escalation process spanning from warning meetings, warning letters, suspension of export license and the Utilisation Declaration (UD) to the issuance of factory closure orders by the government.

The desired impact of the escalation protocol is a safer RMG industry that has sustainable systems in place to ensure conducive working conditions through effective regulatory enforcement and industry ownership.

How did the protocol come into place?

The protocol balances the needs of the industry and its responsibility to comply with national building safety standards. It is a result of collaboration between the government and the industry. The ILO had facilitated a series of consultation process between the national regulatory agencies and the industry where a number of challenges were addressed through careful discussion and negotiation. Representatives of the government and employers’ organisations subsequently agreed on realistic and achievable commitments, and the objectives of the Escalation Protocol were defined. These include:

• Expediting remediation of RMG factories lacking structural and/or electrical and/or fire safety
• Ensuring workplace safety in terms of structural and/or electrical and/or fire safety at RMG factories
• Taking measures against non-complaint RMG factories that are unwilling to assess or remediate as per the plan and schedule
• Making the RMG industry sustainable

What’s next?

Stakeholder consensus and full endorsement of the protocol is a testament to what can be achieved when all parties understand and appreciate a common purpose. The Escalation Protocol will ensure a compliant industry that is safe for workers and trusted by those interested in doing business in Bangladesh.

The endorsed escalation protocol is one of many steps towards the country aligning with the priorities of the 7th Five Year Plan of the Government of Bangladesh and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal Eight on Decent Work and Economic Growth.

We hope that the achievements and lesson learned from this process can be scaled and replicated across industries to change behaviours and arrive at a point in time when safety culture is ingrained in the mind-set of society.

As of November 2019, a total of 691 RMG factories are at different stages of escalation (Source: DIFE).