Country’s ready-made garments (RMG) sector has turned around after the tragic Rana Plaza collapse in Savar six years back which shook the country and the globe as well.
Erasing all odds and stains of the tragedy, the factory owners, workers and the government have taken various initiatives to boost up the sector by all means. The state of physical and social compliance, particularly concerning workplace safety and security, has been ensured in most industries and factories, and as a result, the country has got back foreign buyers’ confidence.
The Rana Plaza tragedy took place on 24 April 2013, claiming lives of 1,136 RMG workers and leaving around two and a half thousands injured. It was the deadliest man-made disaster in the country’s history. After the fatal incident, Bangladesh came under severe criticism across the globe when several foreign countries alleged that the country failed to ensure safe and secure workplace for workers.
Foreign buyers, who purchase international brand readymade garment accessories from Bangladesh, also faced serious difficulties. They were given tremendous pressure not to purchase workers’ bloodstained readymade garment accessories from the country. Human chains formed in front of different brand shops across Europe protesting garment owners’ failure to protect workers and also demanding boycott of Bangladesh’s RMG goods.
Besides, a large number of foreign buyers took decision not to purchase RMG products from the country. Also, many western buyers had cancelled their visits to Bangladesh and pulled out their representatives from the country soon after the attacks on Holey Artisan café in the capital and in Kishoreganj in early July in 2016. Following the consequences, the RMG sector fell into a serious trouble.
In the mean time, Accord and Alliance -- two platforms of foreign buyers -- took up various initiatives to renovate factory buildings, ensure fire and electricity safety and build emergency exit in order to make the workplace safe and secure in the country. The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety is a consortium of North American brands and buyers, and the Accord is a platform of European brands and buyers. The two platforms started working in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza accident.
The delegations of Accord and Alliance visited Bangladesh and worked to improve workplace safety in readymade garment sector. They brought around 2,200 factories under their renovation programme. Of them, they inspected more than 1,600 factories and completed over 90 per cent of remediation works in the units. Ninety-two per cent renovation work has already been done.
RMG sources said the sector is currently going for green building for garment factories, also informing that there are already 67 green buildings and there will be 280 more buildings for the factories. Factory owners had to invest money from Tk 5 crore to Tk 20 crore for remediation of their factory buildings. Apart from Accord and Alliance, Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) of Labour and Employment ministry is also monitoring the renovation work of over 1,500 factories across the country.
Suitability compact, an organisation formed by different foreign countries of Europe and America, also has taken up initiatives to make Bangladesh’s garments factories viable.
As workplace safety has improved significantly in the country's RMG sector and no accident like Rana Plaza has taken place in the last six years, the foreign buyers have regained their confidence and started purchasing RMG accessories from Bangladesh.
According to the data of Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), overall exports of the country’s RMG accessories grew 8.76 per cent in fiscal year 2017-18 (FY18).
The export earning crossed the $30 billion mark riding on the higher shipment of garment products. Between July and March this current fiscal (2018-19), overall exports of RMG accessories grew 13.65 per cent and the export earnings during the corresponding period crossed $30 billion.
Contacted, Inamul Haq Khan (Bablu), director of BGMEA, and managing director of Ananta Garments Ltd, said they expect country’s RMG sector will earn more foreign exchange if the government takes up effective initiative. “We have ensured safety at our factories. Besides, different measures have also been taken for the welfare of workers,” he said.