Slow progress in carrying out plans to compensate victims of the collapsed Rana Plaza building and conduct follow-up factory inspections threatens to undermine the achievements of the Bangladesh ready-made garment sector over the past four decades.

That's the verdict of new research from an independent monitoring group that has followed up on promises made in the aftermath of the tragedy nine months ago.

The second report from the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) following the tragedy also says there is still no single definitive list of victims - with 1,134 people reported to have died but up to 148 bodies unidentified and between 100 and 380 still missing.

And it notes that most of the victims, including the families of the deceased and also the injured undergoing long-term treatment, have received no long-term financial support.

Its document, 'Rana Plaza Tragedy and Beyond: A Follow Up on Commitments and Delivery', urges stakeholders to finalise a compensation package, pointing out that while four retailers have agreed to provide US$40m to the victims, no local parties have made similar financial commitments.

And it says that even the Prime Minister's Relief Fund of BDT20m (US$257,000) would not cover the BDT1m to BDT1.5m (US$12,874 to US$19,311) initially promised per victim.

Building inspections
Slow progress in carrying out plans to inspect Bangladeshi ready-made garment factories for fire, building and electrical safety is also highlighted as one of the main challenges hampering the sector.

The three main initiatives launched to improve worker safety have all been impacted by political turmoil in the last few months, the report says.

But it singles out the government-backed 'National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire, Electrical Safety and Physical Integrity in the Ready-Made Garment Sector of Bangladesh (NAP)' for so far failing to complete 12 of its 25 commitments.

In particular, it says, just 43 out of a promised 200 labour inspectors have been appointed.

This raises questions about the long-term enforcement of fire and structural safety standards in the industry, the researchers say.

And it also suggests the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments to a Directorate (DIFE) and the Fire Service and Civil Defense (FSCD) do "not have the adequate capacity to support the garment industry."

Other concerns include the fact that between them, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, and the NAP intend to carry out preliminary safety inspections of 3,967 factories - which still leaves around 1,000 of Bangladesh's garment factories outside these monitoring mechanisms.

And despite a special committee being set up within the NAP specifically to authorise the shut-down dangerous facilities within 48 hours, "so far no cases have been recorded for closures."

Furthermore, factory inspections have been hampered by protests and blockades in the run-up to this year's parliamentary elections.

The Bureau of Research, Testing and Consultation and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BTRC-BUET) have been contracted by the ILO to conduct structural and fire safety inspections of 1,500 factories on behalf of the National Tripartite Committee (NTC).

But by the end of last year, the teams had completed just 128 structural integrity and 92 fire safety inspections out of a total 1,500 factories due to be assessed by 30 April 2014. Any remediation efforts are yet to begin.

There are also challenges when it comes to inspection, monitoring and implementation, the report says, adding that unlike the Accord and the Alliance, no buyers are particularly dependent on the outcomes of BUET's inspections unless any fatal structural hazards are found.

Factories cannot be shut down for fire safety violations; the logic being that even the slightest incident such as an electrical spark or a lit cigarette can lead to a devastating fire at a garment factory.

As a result, the effectiveness of inspections can only be realised once there are adequate enforcing agencies to regularly follow up on factory safety.

Speeding the process
Looking ahead, the think-tank says the inspection process will need to be stepped up if all factories in Bangladesh are to be checked by the end of 2014 - but it warns against cutting corners to speed the process.

It also suggests "monitoring the monitors" will be necessary to ensure the Accord, Alliance and NAP inspectors all work to the same standard. Follow-up reports should also set out specific deadlines for implementation, and the findings should be shared with local authorities.

When it comes to implementing the recommendations, any failure to do so "may ultimately tarnish the image of 'Brand Bangladesh' and affect the more compliant factories."

And an effective long-term mechanism needs to be in place to ensure that the industry can provide a safe and healthy environment for its workers, the Centre for Policy Dialogue stresses.

Comprehensive goals with set deadlines and regular updates; the recruitment and training of over 200 factory inspectors; and funding for factory improvements, relocation and restructuring are all key to preventing further industrial disasters.

Ultimately, it suggests, the industry monitoring programme has the potential to position 'Brand Bangladesh' as a globally-recognised model for a compliant sourcing hub.