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Five years after the Rana Plaza disaster, the Bangladesh apparel industry marks major workplace safety progress

Bangladesh, widely condemned for permitting appalling workplace conditions, is now among the world’s safest countries for employees in the ready-made garment industry.  

          The claim was made by an influential safety campaign group as it prepared to hold up Bangladesh as an example for the apparel industries of Vietnam and India. 

          The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety was formed by 28 large global retailers after the 2013 garment factory building collapse in Dhaka district that killed 1,134 workers. The Alliance responded to the tragedy with a five-year safety programme

          The result, after the five years, is that Bangladesh “has become one of the safest places for ready-made garment workers in the world”, said Sean Cady, global supply chain vice-president at the North Carolina-based computer and data company VF Services, an alliance member whose brands include The North Face, Timberland and Wrangler.  

          He reported that Bangladesh’s apparel export trade has expanded thanks to the transformation brought about by the Alliance and other campaigning bodies. The number of factories is unchanged but existing producers are receiving more orders. 

          Cady said: “We should all be proud of Brand Bangladesh. Brand Bangladesh has a strong reputation.”

          The Alliance is now about to visit Vietnam and India to promote its Life and Building Safety programme, aimed at enhancing building, fire and electricity safety based on the improvements achieved in Bangladesh.  

          After Vietnam and India, it will extend the programme to Cambodia, Pakistan and Myanmar.  

          However, the activities of the Alliance and Accord, another campaigner, which drew up a workplace safety agreement signed by retailers and trade unions after the Rana Plaza and other factory disasters, may soon cease in Bangladesh. 

          Md Mujibul Haque, the Labour and Employment State Minister, has said the tenure of the Alliance and Accord will be terminated as their job will be done by the Remediation Co-ordination Cell, the government department responsible for managing garment industry reforms. 

          The Alliance has agreed to close its Bangladesh operations by January 1. The Accord wants an extension.