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Bangladesh Starts Inspecting Plants 7 Months After Rana Plaza

Garment Factory
An employee works on a yarn spooler on the production line of a garment factory in Dhaka. Photographer: Jeff Holt/Bloomberg

Bangladesh engineers today start their first full-fledged inspections of garment factories under a government plan to improve safety, seven months after the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex killed more than 1,000.

Thirty teams will initially begin by assessing 200 clothing factories over eight weeks with plans to inspect 1,000 factories on structural integrity, fire and electrical safety, according to Mehedi Ahmed Ansary, a professor of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. The government has sought the help of the university for the checks.

The inspections begin as Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry struggles to rebuild its image after the April deaths at Rana Plaza, the country’s worst industrial disaster. Officials have so far only conducted visual surveys and the latest audits are the government’s first full-fledged assessment of structural and fire safety, Labour Secretary Mikail Shipar said by phone today.

“We had to sit with so many stakeholders in the garment industry,” said Shipar. “Then we had to make sure the standards are consistent with local laws and the national building code. That’s why it took so long.”

In October, a fire at a garment factory on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka killed at least seven, renewing safety concerns.

Worker Protests

Two retailer groups that include companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Hennes & Mauritz AB this week also agreed to improve work safety inspection standards in the Asian country.

The inspections came after a meeting chaired by Shipar and attended by factory owners, trade unions and government agencies, according to the website of the International Labor Organization, which will act as a facilitator.

The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, led by a group of North American apparel companies such as Wal-Mart, and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, whose members include H&M, were present at the meeting, the ILO said. The Alliance’s members include J.C. Penney Co., Gap Inc., Target Corp. and Macy’s Inc. The Accord has members including Inditex SA, Carrefour SA and Marks & Spencer Group Plc.

A series of protests by workers demanding higher wages have taken place in the past several months in the industrial zones of Gazipur and Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka. Some workers clashed with the police in demonstrations, forcing the shutdown of factories.

Two workers died and 30 others were injured in a protest this week as thousands took to the streets demanding a higher monthly salary of 8,000 taka ($103). The government last week increased the minimum wage to 5,300 taka, below the amount unions are demanding.

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