The government will set up a separate agency to monitor and ensure compliance with fire, building structure and environmental safety at all industrial factories in the country, said Salman F Rahman, prime minister's private sector industry and investment adviser, on Friday.
"If a single agency is formed with the participation of all stakeholders, it would be possible to ensure safety and accountability in industrial factories. If needed, the existing law will be amended to ensure workplace safety," he said at a virtual press conference.
The government has already formed a 22-member committee led by Salman F Rahman to prepare recommendations regarding such compliances. The agency will then be formed based on these recommendations.
Detailing the activities of the committee at its first press conference, the PM's adviser said the institution responsible for monitoring factory compliance often submits reports, but their implementation is not often enforced.
The committee, formed by a decision of the prime minister, will review the overall situation of the country's factories, including the labour situation and legal issues, and will present a report as soon as possible. Based on the report, further steps will be taken, said Salman F Rahman.
Based on the committee's decision, the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) will lead factory inspections.
Representatives from the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) – whose presidents are on the Salman-led committee – will also take part in these inspections.
"We are also considering if those who were involved in the inspections of the Accord and Alliance can be used to expedite these inspections," said Salman Rahman.
Citing the recent fire at Hashem Foods, he said it had tarnished the image of the country internationally. "The government is now very serious about this issue. The committee would meet on the issue just after Eid and decide what to do next."
Salman said short, medium and long-term targets will be set.
He said during the inspection, the structural condition, fire safety and environmental condition of the factories in all districts would be evaluated.
The government will create a conducive environment for compliance, but it is the factory owners who will have to do the main job. "Therefore, if capital support is needed, long-term loans will be arranged through negotiations on the basis of need," said Salman Rahman.
Following the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, two separate alliances – Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, and Alliance for Bangladesh Workers' Safety – were formed at the initiative of the European and American buyers to ensure compliance at the garment factories in Bangladesh.
Later they became known as Accord and Alliance. As a result of the extensive efforts of Accord and Alliance for five years, the country's garment sector is now considered much safer, locally and internationally. No major accident or loss of life at the garment factories has been reported since the Rana Plaza incident. But, other sectors have remained somewhat vulnerable.
In the past few years, several major accidents occurred in various sectors, including plastic and chemicals, killing dozens of people. The recent fire at Hashem Foods in Narayanganj, that killed 52 workers inside a factory building, brought forth the issue of weak compliance in other industries outside the garment sector, sparking criticism at home and abroad.
The failure of the government bodies concerned to ensure compliance, and the tendency of blame game again came to the fore after the fire incident.
Ensuring the overall safety in factories is the responsibility of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) under the Ministry of Labour and Employment. The failure and incompetence of the DIFE was raised by several speakers at Friday's press conference.
But, although the DIFE is in charge of ensuring safety at factories, 12 other agencies, including the Fire Service and Civil Defence, the Department of Explosives, the Department of Environment, and the local administration, are involved in the supervision of a factory. But whenever there is an accident, a competition to avoid responsibility starts.
At the press conference, FBCCI President Md Jashim Uddin said due to the pressure of Accord and Alliance, Bangladesh's garment sector is now one of the best industrial sectors in terms of compliance. "But due to weak compliance in non-RMG sectors, our overall image is being tarnished. The DIFE does not have the capability to ensure workplace safety."
He said the FBCCI would set up a separate cell for the purpose and urged the government to set up a single body to look into compliance at factories.
Bida Executive Chairman Sirazul Islam said there are 10/12 agencies that visit a factory one after another. "This does not help the factory owner. We have to go for integration in the long run – as in the developed countries," he said.
He said the prime minister had already given instructions to start inspections.
According to the DIFE, there are currently 59,000 registered industrial factories and establishments in the country. But there are only 320 officers to inspect these factories.
Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment KM Abdus Salam, Secretary of the Security Service Division under the home ministry Md Mokabbir Hossain and other members of the committee also spoke at Friday's press conference.