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‘GIZ has trained advisers and trainers to train garment workers on fire safety issues’

magnus-schmidThe time has come to implement the positive steps taken for the apparel sector after the Tazreen Fashions fire and Rana Plaza building collapse, to make the business more sustainable, a senior GIZ official said.

The most important step is signing the tripartite national plan of action involving government representatives, trade union leaders and garment factory owners to ensure safety in the industrial units, said Magnus Schmid, programme coordinator of GIZ.

Schmid, official for Promotion of Social and Environmental Standards in the Industry at GIZ, shared his views on sustainable garment business in Bangladesh in an interview with The Daily Star recently.

The German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation, GIZ, has been working on the country’s garment sector for many years now.

The completion of factory inspections by professional engineers of Accord, Alliance and Buet is another big step for the garment sector, Schmid said.

Such inspections will boost the sector’s credibility, he added. Allowing trade unionism in the garment sector after amending the labour law and the registration of 236 trade unions in the last year and half are major steps for the sector, he said.

A panel, comprising three secretaries from the foreign, commerce and labour and employment ministries and five diplomats, has been formed to take the sector forward to sustainability, Schmid said.

Under the social compliance issues, GIZ has trained 200 advisers and trainers in 700 factories to train garment workers on fire safety issues since 2010, he added.

The advisers and trainers have been training the mid-level managers and workers to keep the doors open during production hours, he said. In case of fire, they have also been trained to use fire extinguishers and keep the corridors free from stockpiles to help workers navigate freely, he added.

“We are not an auditing firm; we are training mid-level managers and workers on these issues, mainly to save lives.”

After the industrial disasters, many factory owners contacted GIZ for such training programmes for their people, he said.

The factory owners sought GIZ’s help to make the workplace safe for the workers before arrival of the inspection engineers of the Accord and Alliance, he said.

The two foreign agencies completed their preliminary inspection of nearly 1,700 factories in September. In the next four years, they will run follow-up activities, where they will mainly monitor improvements to safety conditions.

GIZ developed a business model last year in collaboration with Swedish retail giant IKEA to install effluent treatment plants (ETPs) in factories, he said.

Under the model, a professional team of German engineers have been developing ETPs in some factories for waste water treatment to curb environment pollution, he added.

“The factory owners and IKEA will share the ETP installation costs equally.”

He said the sludge extracted from the ETPs will be sent to the Lafarge Surma Cement factory at Sunamganj to be grinded with cement materials, as the sludge is harmful to soil health, if left out on the fields.

The fire and building safety initiatives in the factories improved a lot, he said. “Now many factories have fire exists.”

“I personally visited some factories in Narayanganj and saw how 2,000 workers were evacuated from a factory within 10 minutes.”

So far, Bangladesh has achieved a lot; but there is room for further improvements, he said.

Schmid said workers should be trained on enhancing productivity, which is the key to success in the competitive global garment market.

Bangladeshi workers have one of the lowest productivity rates among its competitors, he said. Factory owners should also launch lean production systems to cut the cost of production, he added.

Bangladesh should aggressively explore new export destinations, like Japan, India, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, he said.

A few years ago, GIZ took a Bangladeshi team for the first time to Latin American countries to explore new markets, which is helping the country enjoy duty benefits in many places.

For example, Chile has agreed to give such benefits to Bangladeshi goods from January, Schmid said.

Similarly, Japan and Russia are promising markets for Bangladesh, as exports are maintaining high growth in the two countries in the last few years, he said.

Moreover, Bangladesh should go for producing value added high-end garment items, he said.

The garment workers’ living conditions must be improved, and the government should restrict the house owners from taking away a major portion of the workers’ salaries at the end of a month, he said.

The government should also introduce mini fire fighting brigades that can enter factories located in narrow alleys; in most incidents, fire fighters always get delayed in reaching the spot due to the small and narrow roads, Schmid added.

He said GIZ will launch such mini-brigades under a pilot project at DBL Group next March.

The government should also launch health insurance for the workers and an adequate number of labour courts to settle disputes, he said.

“Everything is going in the right direction in Bangladesh and I am hopeful that it is possible to achieve the target of exporting apparel items worth $50 billion by 2021.”

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Report: Refayet Ullah Mirdha

 Source: Daily Star

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