Three months after a deadly building collapse in Bangladesh crushed 1,127 workers to death, demand for the South Asian country’s clothing has far from diminished. Even as the garment-makers struggle to shore up their tractable safety standards, exports rose as much as 16 percent last month, according to Reuters. But an investigation by the news agency found “major discrepancies” among the coterie of agencies charged with inspecting the 5,300-odd factories that make up Bangladesh’s $20 billion apparel industry.
Because little coordination exists between the agencies, senior government officials are unable to confirm how many factories have been inspected. (Estimates vary wildly, ranging anywhere between 60 to 340.) The disconnect means some garment factories have been visited several times while others have been completely neglected.
Lack of coordination between the agencies means senior government officials are unable to confirm how many factories have been inspected.
Another complication: Bangladesh has fewer than 200 qualified inspectors. Without sufficient technical equipment for sophisticated assessments, most of them have to rely on sight to gauge compliancy.
But even factories deemed to be “safe” don’t necessarily inspire confidence. A Reuters reporter who followed a team of local inspectors on a tour of half a dozen factories in and around Dhaka discovered that red flags were often overlooked. An unscheduled visit to Miami Garments, a four-story facility housed in a residential building in the capital of Dhaka, for instance, revealed a single narrow exit staircase, wobbly floors and columns, and a single fire extinguisher for the entire building. The inspectors Reuters accompanied, however, declared the factory to be “relatively compliant with standards.”
Government officials pledged to improve worker conditions after the European Union threatened to withdraw preferential access to Bangladeshi garments. In June, U.S. President Barack Obama suspended the nation’s trade benefits in a mostly symbolic response to the life-threatening labor conditions.