Global apparel buyers, importers and other industry stakeholders are being urged to treat the recent garment factory fire in Bangladesh as a wake-up call to work together to establish a sustainable factory model with improved worker safety.

The plea was made at an International Product Safety and Environmental Compliance Conference organised last week in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka by the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA).

Speakers at a special session on 'Fire Prevention: Health & Safety Concerns in Apparel and Footwear Sourcing' also said the country needs to take steps to revive the image of Bangladesh ready-made garments in the global market by ensuring that such a tragedy is never repeated.

At least 111 people were killed and nearly 100 injured in the fire that swept through the Tazreen Fashion factory in Ashulia on 24 November.

Avedis Seferian, president and CEO of the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), said all employers and workers must be fully trained in fire safety and prevention.

"The best way to deal with fire is to not let it happen in the first place," Seferian suggested. "But if there is a fire, the most important things are the ones that need to be done before the fire." 

Payal Jain, regional CSR Manager at H&M, said that while there are different laws and policies in Bangladesh to ensure safety in the apparel industry, "the challenge is in their execution".

"Who takes responsibility for executing the laws and policies?" she asked.   

Entrepreneurs require permission from more than two-dozen authorities to run a factory in Bangladesh, at least seven of which directly relate to worker safety.   

Middle to top management will have to ensure safety, Jain said, adding that buyers and retailers are working with local manufacturers to minimise the risk of fires by building awareness among workers in the ready-made garment industries. 

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the country's main trade body for the apparel sector, has been working with 19 global buyers and retailers to reduce the risk of fires and fatalities.