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Bangladesh Overwhelmed in Monitoring of Factories, Minister Says

Bangladesh’s government lacks the staff and the resources to oversee the country’s textile industry, which has grown at a pace that exceeded expectations, a government official said.

Fresh inspections are being carried out in all of the nation’s nearly 5,000 apparel and textile factories to ensure they have sufficient safety and fire-protection equipment, commerce minister Ghulam Muhammed Quader said yesterday.

The minister’s comments came after a blaze on Jan. 26 killed seven people. It was the second major fire at a clothing factory in two months and prompted labor groups to renew calls for better conditions at garment-making units supplying the world’s biggest brands. More than 100 people were killed on Nov. 24 at a plant producing clothes for companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT)

“The ready-made garments industry grew in Bangladesh all of a sudden, at a very high pace.” Quader told reporters in New Delhi. “The industry grew out of proportion compared to our facilities or our controlling capacities.”

Surging wages and inflation in China, the largest apparel supplier, have prompted global retailers to shift production to Bangladesh. In response, an $18 billion manufacturing industry has sprung up, marred by factories in buildings with poor electrical wiring, an insufficient number of exits and little fire-fighting equipment.

Safety Costs

More than 700 garment workers have died since 2005 in Bangladesh, according to the International Labor Rights Forum, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Labor rights activists are urging the industry to help pay for safety upgrades at about 4,500 Bangladesh factories. Doing so would amount to 10 cents per garment, or $3 billion over five years, according to an analysis by the Worker Rights Consortium, a Washington-based monitoring group.

Bangladesh is attractive to apparel makers because its factories produce high-quality products at a low price, and it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure workers are adequately protected, Quader said. There is also more that the apparel- makers can do to ensure better standards, he said.

“If they can allow some sort of margin for the improvement of the working conditions and some other things, maybe that can help us,” he said. “The branding of Bangladesh as a country which doesn’t look after the interest of the workers or the safety of the workers, is not acceptable to us.”

U.S. Authorities

Garments from brands belonging to Inditex SA (ITX), the world’s largest clothing retailer, were found in the wreckage of the Jan. 26 blaze, the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights said on its website. Inditex has stopped doing business with Spanish supplier Wonnover and its Bangladeshi subcontractor Centex as a precautionary measure, Inditex spokesman Jesus Echevarria said in a telephone interview.

Bangladesh is working with U.S. authorities to continue a program that grants duty-free status to selected products including tobacco, sports goods and kitchen utensils, Quader said. The U.S. Generalized System of Preferences is a program provides preferential entry for as many as 5,000 products from 127 countries, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s website. The south Asian nation may be dropped from this list for not doing enough to address working conditions, the Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adi Narayan in Mumbai at anarayan8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anjali Cordeiro at acordeiro2@bloomberg.net

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