Anwar Hossain, General Manager of the Towel Tex factory says he had never heard of the labour inspectorate before the April 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza, in the outskirts of Dhaka – one of the worst industrial disasters in recent history.
The tragedy claimed the lives of 1,136 people and injured many more. It also galvanized national and international action to improve safety at garment factories in Bangladesh, which supply many of the world’s clothing brands. The eight-story Rana Plaza housed five such factories.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the immediate priority was to assess the structural, electrical and fire safety of more than 3,600 export-oriented garment factories. Of the total, more than 1,500, including Towel Tex, were inspected with support from the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Following the inspection recommendations, the factory made a number of changes including building a wall between the dyeing shed and the boiler room, widened walkways on the factory floor, installing exit lights and developing an evacuation plan.
Anwar Hossain also recognizes the more active role of the labour inspectorate, which ILO has worked closely with since Rana Plaza to build its capacity and effectiveness.
“I had never even heard of the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments. But now we have regular surprise inspections, almost one a quarter,” says Hossain and that, he says, helps him improve safety in the factory. “We want to be compliant, but without inspections we could never be sure.”
The ILO responded rapidly to the Rana Plaza disaster by working with the Government, employers’ and workers’ organizations to develop a national plan of action to improve fire and building safety. To help implement the plan, the ILO, with support from Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, launched the Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Sector Programme in September 2013.