Occupational Health & Safety

1,700 Factories Now Covered by Bangladesh Accord

In an AIHce 2014 keynote speech, Worker Rights Consortium Executive Director Scott Nova said follow-up inspections are now under way, and 16 facilities were found to be imminent hazards.

SAN ANTONIO -- The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is slightly more than a year old, and it is improving conditions in some of the country's most dangerous ready-made garment factories, Worker Rights Consortium Executive Director Scott Nova said during a June 4 keynote speech at AIHce 2014. Nova said 176 global brands and retailers have signed the legally binding accord, which now covers 1,700 factories and 2 million workers, he explained.

The first follow-up inspections are under way to check whether factory owners are making needed fire and life safety changes to their buildings, he said, adding that 16 facilities were found to be imminent hazards. The total cost of needed repairs probably will exceed $1 billion, said Nova, whose speech focused on the factors that have produced so many garment factory fires and collapses in Bangladesh, which is the lowest-cost garment producer in the world. The industry is an important part of Bangladesh's economy, employing 3.5 million workers in approximately 3,500 factories, he said. The Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013, killing 1,137 workers, prompted international unions and Bangladeshi trade unions to develop the accord along with international brands and retailers.

Private-industry inspection programs were in use in the country's garment factories, but they failed to correct or even document fire safety and structural deficiencies in the garment factories that burned or collapsed, showing that self-policing simply did not work, Nova said. Most of the fatal fires have been electrical, resulting from poor wiring igniting cloth that has been stored unsafely, he said.

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