Following decades of problems at garment factories in Bangladesh and increased scrutiny of standards by fashion brand buyers, the world’s second largest apparel exporter after China has implemented a nationwide program to upgrade fire and safety standards at garment factories.

Siddiqur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BGMEA) told Forward with Toll that Accord (Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh) and Alliance (Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety) – under a national initiative, were supported by US and European apparel brands and buyers, the government and the ILO (International Labour Organisation) to improve safety standards in the apparel sector.

According to Rahman, more than 3800 export-oriented garment factories have been inspected for building, fire and electrical safety, and safety repairs have been recommended where necessary. Around 94 per cent of the identified safety issues have been fixed in the Alliance-affiliated factories, while the progress rate is 89 per cent in the factories under Accord, he added.

Accord said its fire safety management teams operate in 1572 factories with Corrective Action Plans (CAPs). Alliance’s fire safety management teams have completed all major items in the initial CAPs of 428 factories. 

Since 2005, a series of fires and building collapses at garment factories have resulted in more than 1000 casualties, with the worst being the disaster at Rana Plaza factory on the outskirts of Dhaka in 2013.  As a result, since 2013, organisations such as Accord and Alliance launched workplace fire and building safety initiatives under a five-year national program that ended in 2018.

As part of a separate program, the two leading apparel manufacturers’ associations, the BGMEA and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BKMEA) have appointed their own fire safety units to continue monitoring and inspecting garment factories.

Before these action plans were put in place, many retail brands voiced concerns about safety standards at garment factories in Bangladesh and the negative impact on their reputation. This brought on the possibility of a major shift in sourcing to other regions including China and South East Asia, and would have impacted the supply chain accordingly.