UK Government Supporting Full Inspection Scheme for Bangladesh Garment Industry

Alan Duncan, minister of state for International Development, discussed the government's support for workers injured in the Rana Plaza collapse, and for the ILO and the Bangladesh government, during a parliamentary hearing April 30.

Britain's Department for International Development has committed more than 4 million pounds ($6.7 million in U.S. dollars) to support the International Labour Organization's inspection program for Bangladesh's garment industry after the April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza building collapse killed 1,110 workers, Minister Alan Duncan reported April 30. He was speaking during a parliamentary hearing about Rana Plaza and working conditions in the industry.

The department has posted a timeline of its actions since the collapse and reports that it is supporting the development of professional factory inspectors responsible for enforcing Bangladesh's new labor law. With 135 inspectors in place and 200 more promised in the next few months, the inspections will cover "long-term issues such as payment of wages, working hours, payment of maternity and other benefits, as well as basic health and safety – open fire exits, proper evacuation procedures," and there will eventually be 575 inspectors for 3,500 garment factories, according to DFID.

"The UK is working with the government of Bangladesh to ensure all factories are identified and brought into the inspection programme, even those which are small and unregistered. We are also supporting the development of a publicly accessible database which will have information on structural, fire, and electrical inspections as well as labor inspections," according to the department.

During the hearing, Shabana Mahmood, MP, called the collapse "a reminder of the human cost of our 10-pound dress that we buy from a retailer on High Street." In an article Mahmood wrote this week about the disaster for www.progressonline.org.uk, she explained that it "shone a light on the quite hideous conditions that many workers endure in the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh and on the buildings in which they endure it. The immediate cause of the collapse was quite simple; there was more weight in the building than the structure was ever intended to bear – a weight almost six times greater in fact. The building was constructed for retail and being used for heavy industry. Load bearing columns were erected haphazardly. Two extra floors had been added illegally. Rana Plaza was a disaster waiting to happen. But one of many."

"I hope shoppers will continue to exert pressure on High Street brands for better standards in Bangladesh and other places like it. Bangladesh needs the ready-made garment industry. It is key to economic growth. It is key to putting food on the tables of Bangladeshi workers. British politicians need to play their part too; it is clear from my visit that the problem is less about legislation and regulation but more about implementation. This is where the government comes in. Its programme Improving Working Conditions (being run in conjunction with the Netherlands government) is a programme to assist with the technical support required for a robust inspection regime which in the end will be what keeps buildings and workers safe. In the United Kingdom, on the anniversary of this dreadful disaster, it will be through the continued combined power of consumers and politicians that we can help ensure that these 1,100 lives were not lost in vain," she concluded.

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