This Challenge is a based on a live and unfolding set of relationships. As news comes in, we try to publish the latest developments.
An earlier post described the importance of, and debate about, a document called the Accord on Fire & Building Safety in Bangladesh. Its signatories, among pay, among other things, for inspections that assess if garment factories are safe places to work. But what happens if a factory, or part of a factory, fails its inspection? This Reuters news story (published today on the Australian Network News) reports on the first case of its kind. Watch out for the twist at the end…
Several thousand Bangladeshi garment workers have lost their jobs after their factory was discovered to have serious safety problems and shut down. A team of experts ordered the evacuation of six floors of two adjoining buildings housing clothing firms Softex and Fame Knitting following an inspection last week which discovered serious structural flaws. Softex, a sweater maker and a supplier to French retailer Auchan, shut down immediately, laying off all 3,500 workers, saying “it was risky to continue operations”. “I know what has happened to the workers is unfair,” Softex chief executive officer Rezwan Seilm said. “But the inspectors told me that the building has serious structural problems and asked us to evacuate the floors.” Mr Seilm said he was “desperately trying” to pay three months worth of wages to the workers from the factory in Mirpur in the northern suburb of Dhaka.
Fame Knitting, employing about 2,500 workers, also closed for a few days last week after engineers involved in the inspection requested reduced weight on some of the floors, an official said. Unions have criticised Softex and Fame for failing to compensate the workers, but a trade group representing garment factories said retailers must shoulder some of the costs. “We’re closing down plants as part of their (retailers’) suggestions. So they must pay the affected factories to compensate their workers,” Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said.
The factory was the first to close following the mass inspections organised by dozens of Western retailers such as H&M and Benetton, who signed a new safety accord in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse last year that killed 1,135 people. As part of the accord, the retailers agreed to bankroll the safety inspections and loan the money for upgrades. The head of the inspection team, Rob Wayss, said the factory has not been ordered to close down, but it has been asked strengthen the building’s structural columns. Mr Wayss, who has been appointed by the retailers and global unions to look after factory inspections, said factories located on other floors of the twin-building containing 15 floors in total can continue operations.