RMG factory remediation -- still some way to go

Dhaka,  Wed,  23 August 2017
Published : 20 Jun 2017, 21:18:43

RMG factory remediation -- still some way to go

Although a majority of the small garment factories are not directly linked with exporting, they are the ones which, while surviving on sub-contracting, facilitate exports  by the major exporting houses. With the small factories not being inspected until now, things are far from rosy, writes Wasi Ahmed
Reports in newspapers saying that a large number of small garment factories are out of the ongoing inspection net work makes a bad case for factory remediation - a process that has been in place for nearly four years. It has been learnt that these small production houses which are not directly linked with the European and North American retailers are left in the lurch as there is apparently no agency with required funds to conduct inspection. The number of such factories is reportedly around a thousand. 

Following the Rana Plaza building collapse, garment factories all over the country were placed under the inspection network of three inspection initiatives -- Accord, Alliance and the National Initiative. These three initiatives have been inspecting nearly 4,000 factories to fix structural, fire and electrical loopholes in the factories. Accord, the platform of mostly European retailers and Alliance that of the North American retailers are in charge of remediation of more than seventy per cent of the readymade garment (RMG) factories. The rest are being taken care by the National Initiative. What actually appears now is that while bulk of the factories under scanner has been done with, there are around a thousand factories - small in size and rely mostly on subcontracting - which are yet to be inspected. The Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) is the designated agency to inspect these factories under the National Initiative, but as reports say inspection of these factories cannot be undertaken for want of funds.

The DIFE has been strengthened lately with manpower, though inadequacy still persists. However, with its available resources, the state agency has been pursuing its job, but lately its activities got almost stalled due to fund constraints. A good number of the small factories, which are to be inspected by DIFE, have moved to either their own buildings or relocated their activities to rented buildings. Now, in the absence of inspection, they are not in a position to plan future activities. It was expected that the government would provide the DIFE necessary funds to complete the inspection, but this is not happening and it remains uncertain whether any prospective international body, ILO included, would be forthcoming to help undertake the pending works. 

Progress of remediation of RMG factories has given rise to a mixed feeling. While some quarters are visibly upset with the slow pace of progress achieved so far, others consider the accomplishment not small given the vastly enormous nature of the task. Accord and Alliance have almost done their jobs, reportedly.

Both the inspection groups are now well set to share their findings and recommendations in a conclusive manner with the government's review panel instituted for the purpose of appraisal and suggestions for onward actions. Observers, including insiders, are of the opinion that with the initial confusions gone, and correction methods clearly identified by both inspection teams, implementation of factory remediation in full is likely to be achieved within 2018-- the deadline for completion of remediation. 

It must be admitted that despite the stupendous task, the inspections -- first ever in the country - have laid out in details the fundamentals about managing factories -- from setting up to running, as functional productive units. At the same time, the inspections have brought home the perils of not doing what was required long back at the time of setting up of the units at whatever locations the owners thought suitable, with little or no clues as to the dos and don'ts.

However, with the small factories not being inspected till now, things are far from rosy. Small indeed these are, they do have the potential to emerge as big production houses capable of attracting big buyers. Observers consider it a lacuna in the planning of the government. Since Accord and Alliance, as representatives of major European and North American retailers, have a clear mandate of their own, it was highly likely that the government should also have put in place a systematic mechanism for factories not under the purview of inspection by Accord and Alliance.  

The onus, for the most part, lies with the government. At a time when garment export is the life-blood of the country's economy, facilitating its operation indeed calls for required remediation and compliance of all production houses, big or small. It is here that the small-sized factories matter a lot. In fact, although a majority of them are not directly linked with exporting, they are the ones which while surviving on sub-contracting, facilitate exports by the major exporting houses. Although they are the backyard of big export houses, absence of facilitation for them to fulfil the required compliance norms would harm exports on the one hand, and on the other, halt their growth into exporting units themselves. 


Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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