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'Action plan' to boost Bangladeshis' worker safety is unveiled

By Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Sat May 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A labor package is to be submitted to Parliament
  • Garment factories are to be inspected
  • Hundreds more inspectors are to be hired

(CNN) -- Representatives of Bangladesh's government, industry and workers issued a joint statement Saturday laying out an "action plan" to improve worker safety in the wake of a series of disasters that have beset the industry in the past six months.

Under the plan:

-- A labor law reform package is to be submitted to Parliament during its next session, which is expected to be called in June, to boost protection "for the fundamental rights to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, as well as occupational safety and health."

-- By the end of the year, garment factories whose products are intended for export are to be inspected and repairs begun for those that need them. The plan calls for the International Labour Organization, which has sent a delegation to Bangladesh, to help mobilize the technical know-how and money needed to carry out the assessment.

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-- Within six months, the government is to hire 200 more inspectors and ensure that the Department of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Establishments will be given the resources needed to recruit and manage at least 800 inspectors.

-- A fire-safety plan for the ready-made garment industry is to be strengthened and implemented.

The action plan calls for progress to be measured in six months.

Three incidents led to the plan's creation. In January, seven people died in a factory fire at Smart Export Garments, in Dhaka; two months earlier, 112 people were killed at Tazreen Fashions Limited, on the outskirts of the capital.

The April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza Building in the capital's suburb of Savar is the most serious disaster to strike the industry. As of Saturday, 547 bodies had been recovered, 22 more than on Friday, the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha News Agency reported.

The number of survivors rescued from the rubble remained at 2,443, "as you cannot expect anyone to survive under the debris at this point," Assistant Director of Fire Service and Civil Defense Aminur Rahman told BSS.

"Those responsible for the tragic events that have occurred in Bangladesh over the past six months shall be held accountable," the plan says. "Unless lawful actions are taken at the earliest more lives may be lost in preventable industrial accidents."

In their joint statement, the representatives of government, industry and labor called for international buyers and brands to "take increased responsibility for improving working conditions and safety and health."

They also called on the ILO to initiate a program to train those workers who were hurt in the incidents.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association are to give alternative work to those who became disabled as a result of their injuries, it says.

Preliminary results of a government inquiry into last week's building collapse found that "heavy machinery and high-capacity generators" were "largely responsible," the news agency reported Friday.

"During the inquiry, we have found that use of substandard materials during the construction also contributed to the building collapse," the leader of the inquiry, Main Uddin Khandaker, told BSS.

Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry accounts for 77% of the country's exports.

Among those caught up in the finger pointing after the disaster are Western retailers and clothing brands that Bangladeshi suppliers say put heavy pressure on prices, resulting in bad pay and conditions for workers.

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