Garment industry in Bangladesh

The ILO's response to the Rana Plaza tragedy

Article | 03 April 2014

How has the ILO responded?

The ILO responded quickly to the tragedy on April 24 2013 with a high level mission to Dhaka at the start of May, which agreed immediate and medium term actions with the Government of Bangladesh and employers’ and workers’ organizations. These were integrated into the National Tripartite Plan of Action on fire safety and structural integrity (NTPA), which was developed following the Tazreen factory fire in November 2012.  

The ILO has since launched a US$24.2 million, three-and-a-half year programme to support implementation of the NTPA and improve working conditions in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector. Key elements are already being implemented, including building and fire safety assessments; labour inspection reforms; and occupational safety and health, rehabilitation and skills training.

Is the ILO inspecting factories?

No. The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) is responsible for inspecting factory buildings both for structural integrity and fire and electrical safety. The ILO helps to coordinate inspections and has provided technical support, including training and logistics. A range of specialized equipment is currently being procured by the ILO and will be provided to BUET.

BUET undertakes inspections of factories that are not covered by inspection programmes under the Accord for Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. By early April 2014 BUET had inspected 256 factories for electrical and fire safety and conducted 202 structural assessments, with inspection of the remaining factories due to be completed by the end of the year. All inspections are carried out using a uniform set of minimum inspection standards.

How does the ILO work with the Accord and the Alliance?

The ILO serves as the neutral chair of the Accord, which brings together more than 150 international brands and retailers who have suppliers in Bangladesh, and two global unions (IndustriALL, UNI Global). In total the Accord covers 1,639 of the 3,498 Bangladesh factories making garments for export. The Alliance is a group of 26 North American retailers and brands. It covers a further estimated 770 factories.

How are these and other initiatives coordinated?

The Government of Bangladesh (GoB) formally asked the ILO to assist in the implementation and coordination of the NTPA. The ILO works with the National Tripartite Committee (GoB and workers’ and employers’ organizations), the Accord and Alliance to help ensure coordination.

More broadly the ILO is part of the “3+5+1” group. This brings together three Bangladesh Secretaries (Labour, Commerce and Foreign Affairs); five Ambassadors (US, EU, Netherlands, Canada and a 5th EU member state -- filled on rotation), and the ILO to follow progress made in commitments made under the National Tripartite Plan of Action and the EU Compact.

What about compensation for victims and their families?

The Government of Bangladesh, BGMEA, trade unions, NGOs and garment brands have formed the Rana Plaza Coordination Committee (CC). The purpose is to ensure payments to the victims, their families and dependents for losses and needs arising from the accident. It is formalized in an agreement known as “the Arrangement.”

How does the Arrangement work?

The Arrangement has established a claims process based on ILO standards on employment injury. Payments are funded by various sources and notably through the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, which is open to contributions from any organization, company or individual wishing to support the delivery of financial and medical support to the Rana Plaza families.

What is the ILO’s role?

The ILO is the neutral chair of the Coordination Committee (CC) and provides technical expertise and advice on ILO labour standards to its members.

What about Primark, haven’t they decided to provide compensation directly?

Primark expressed preference to directly take care of the cases relating to the 580 workers of its local supplier New Wave Bottoms in a well-coordinated manner with the CC. Primark has also contributed to the common Fund.

What kind of support is being provided to injured survivors?

Rehabilitation programmes are under way, including for the approximately 550 survivors considered permanently or temporarily disabled. Skills development and re-employment support has been provided to an initial 50 injured survivors in collaboration with BRAC, a prominent local non-governmental organization. A further 250 survivors are receiving similar support in collaboration with Action Aid, an international non-governmental organization.

What is the ILO doing to promote improved workers’ rights and working conditions?

The ILO has been working for some time with the Government of Bangladesh and employers' and workers' organizations to strengthen dialogue and improve working conditions. This includes through its Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) project and the establishment of a Better Work programme for Bangladesh, in partnership with the International Finance Corporation.

The ILO continues to support the Bangladesh Government in improving labour legislation - work that has already led to some labour law reforms.

In July 2013 the ILO, the EU and the Bangladesh government adopted a new compact on garment factory safety designed to help improve health and safety, labour rights and responsible business conduct in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry.

What results have there been so far?

Amendments were made to the Bangladesh Labour Act in July 2013, including provisions on workplace rights, safety and health. Initial progress made through ILO assistance to the Government in the registration of new unions accelerated following the labour law reforms, with over 140 new unions registered from beginning 2013 to date – compared to only two unions registered in the preceding three years.

The ILO also advises the Government’s Minimum Wages Board. Its recommendations have already led to a substantial rise in the minimum wage in the garment sector.

What about labour inspections?

The ILO has been working with the Government of Bangladesh to improve labour inspection capacity in the country. So far 392 new labour inspector positions have been established, as part of the process of upgrading the country’s Directorate of Labour Inspections to a fully-fledged department, which will ultimately lead to an increase in the number of inspectors from 183 to 575. The ILO has also developed a comprehensive training plan for labour inspectors.

What are the challenges ahead for the response?

Action is needed in three priority areas. The target for the Rana Plaza Trust Fund needs to be reached and compensation provided to claimants. The amendments made to the Bangladesh labour law should be put into effect and made a reality in all workplaces. And structural and fire safety inspections must continue apace and remedial measures implemented as deemed necessary.