Bangladeshis the second largest exporter of garments after China. Severalcompanies most based in the United States and Europe have stationedtheir manufacturing in Bangladesh due to the availability of cheaplabor mostly from young urbanizing workers, majority of whom arewomen. The industry accounts for 80 percent of exports in thecountry. However, the industry is notorious for health and safetytragedies which have killed more than 1800 people since 2005. A fireon 24thNovember 2012 at Tazreen Fashions and the collapse of the Rana Plazafactory building on 24thApril, 2013 which collectively led to tragic death of 1,200 workersis one of the recent memories of the condition of the garmentindustry in Bangladesh. The high number of deaths in Bangladeshgarment industry reflects the substandard constructions, pooremergency procedures, insufficient and closed fire escapes as well asovercrowded workplaces. The situation in Bangladesh garment industryis a public issue that needs to be addressed by all stakeholders.
Apublic issue is described as an issue of mutual concern to thecompany and one or more of its stakeholders. The public issue facingcompanies that source garments from Bangladesh is that, the productsare not ethically manufactured and in some way violate human rights.Workers in Bangladesh work in poor conditions with poor health andsafety standards. As a result, lots of lives are lost throughtragedies in these factories. Consumers and human rights watch dogsare affected by the situation in Bangladesh garment sector. Consumerswant to have goods that are ethically manufactured. Human rightsadvocates are concerned about the violation of human rights inBangladesh. Consequently, trade unions are concerned about theneglect of the workers in Bangladesh. The situation in Bangladesh ispathetic and is the concern of every stakeholder in the industryabout their safety.
Theworking conditions of workers in Bangladesh garment industry asdescribed are poor. The factory owners erect building or renovatebuildings to serve as factories in a hurry, usually neglecting basicsafety procedures. It is common to have loose electric wires andclocked or non-existent fire escapes in these factories. The factoryowners want to increase production hence profits at minimumoperational costs. Managers also work in conformity with the owners’interest hence work to meet production targets and deadlines at allcosts. Consequently, the government of Bangladesh does not pushfactory owners to comply with standards set for health and safety bythe ILO. The government is concerned about revenue collection,employment creation and gain from foreign currency obtained fromexports. The U.S and European governments have control overbusinesses that their home companies do abroad. They seem to turn ablind eye to these companies as they have the authority to imposepenalties and even revoke imports of their products from Bangladesh.Consumers on the other hand want cheap products they are notconcerned about the process or the tribulations that workers inBangladesh experience every single day. Non-governmentalorganizations and trade unions also fail to play their role inpushing the relevant governments to take action against thesecompanies. By not being concerned or not doing enough, thesestakeholders allow the situation to remain unsolved.
Tosalvage the situation, it is the responsibility of all thestakeholders in the garment industry to work together. Bangladeshigovernment, through its established bodies should conduct thoroughreview of factory buildings and fire and safety standards and includebenchmarks for compliance. In addition, the government must enactpolicies which ensure that workers conditions of working are aboveboard and violations to attract hefty penalties which will discouragethe practice. Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and ExportersAssociation (BKMEA) and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers andExporters Association (BGMEA) are powerful organizations that canregulate the industry. The two bodies can work with the government toensure that all factories from small to big comply with set standardsand ensure that their members are well informed of safety standards.Factory owners must ensure that there factory buildings meet thestandard safety requirements. They should have adequate fire exitswhich should remain open throughout when workers are at work.Workers, managers and supervisors should be trained to enhance safetyprocedures in the factory. In addition, the owners can seek theservices of a private inspector to assess the compliance of theirfactories to safety. Ultimately, they should take a more positiveattitude to concerns regarding employees. Allowing workers to airtheir grievances to the management and through trade unions can havegreat impact on safety of workers. Finally, consumers all over theworld have a right to shun products produced by rogue companies sincethey do not meet health and safety standards for their workers. Humanrights activists can lead in massive campaigns to let consumers knowwhich manufacturers violate human rights hence their products shouldnot be accepted.
Inconclusion, Bangladesh garment industry is one of the biggest in theworld after China. However, it surrounded by a history of tragedy forworkers due to poor working conditions, poor buildings, lack ofhealth and safety requirements, among other issues. All stakeholdersincluding the Bangladeshi government, trade unions, human rightsgroups, owners, as well as consumers all contribute to this issuethrough their inadequacies in dealing with the issues. With therecommendations that have been provided, the issue of workers safetycan be addressed successfully.