Inspection tensions add to Bangladesh garment industry's woes

Thu Jun 26, 2014 10:51pm EDT
 
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By Nandita Bose

DHAKA (Reuters) - It took Western safety inspectors only about an hour to tour a factory the size of three football fields before ordering a partial shutdown of Sonia & Sweaters Ltd, a Bangladesh clothing supplier to Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N: Quote) and Debenhams (DEB.L: Quote).

Two weeks later, the group that the inspectors represented changed its mind and allowed the factory to stay open, even though none of the repairs they suggested had been carried out.

Such erratic decision-making poses a new set of problems for Bangladesh's $22 billion garments industry, whose safety record has been under the microscope since the collapse of a factory near Dhaka that killed more than 1,100 workers last year.

More than a year after the public outcry that spurred Western retailers into demanding better standards from the factories that make their clothes, it also highlights the practical complexities of improving the conditions of millions of poor workers whilst also safeguarding their jobs.

Export growth in the sector has slowed as buyers turn to India, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia because of concerns over workshop safety, higher wages and political instability.

Now factory owners say they are concerned about arbitrary shutdowns and meeting the cost of demands for remedial work, while workers worry about who will pay their wages if their workplace is temporarily closed.

"We went through inexplicable harassment during this whole process, and I am sure they don't care about that," said Sonia & Sweaters Director Mahabubur Rahman, of his experience of the inspection.

"But with their trigger-happy attitude, I am left wondering if they at least care about the workers, who they are meant to protect, because nobody has to explain to them what the implication of one factory shutdown is."   Continued...

 
A worker works in a factory of Ananta Garments Ltd in Savar June 10, 2014.  REUTERS/Andrew Biraj