Bangladesh has said that over 80% of its ready-made garment factories have been found to be safe following inspections for structural, fire and electrical safety, with emphasis now switching to remediation.

The deadline for assessments was 31 October, at which point 1,475 factories had been inspected through government efforts supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO) with the backing of Canada, the Netherlands and the UK. 

Additionally, around 2,185 factories have been inspected by the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

Of those inspected, some 81% were found to adhere to building codes, and fire and electrical safety standards.

Of the remaining factories, the government has ordered 37 to be closed for failing to address safety issues on their premises, Syed Ahmed, inspector general of the Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishments (DIFE) told attendees at a briefing this week. A further 209 factories have been warned they will be closed if immediate remedial measures aren't taken.

The DIFE launched the safety assessment in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) following the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy. A number of actions have taken place to underpin the inspection process under the national initiative, including the harmonisation of inspection standards, the establishment of a review panel to assess factories identified as dangerous, and capacity building for, as well as enhanced collaboration between labour inspectorate and fire service staff who will follow up on inspection reports. A study on remediation financing, jointly launched by the ILO and DIFE is also ongoing.

Srinivas Reddy, ILO Bangladesh country director, stressed the importance of prioritising the corrective measures.

“Carrying out these inspections is a significant milestone yet it is only the beginning. Our full attention must now turn to remediation. ILO will help build the capacity of the Bangladesh authorities to put in place an effective system for all remediation and regulatory oversight once the support of partners ends.
Reddy added: “We appeal to employers organisations to actively work with factory management to produce Corrective Action Plans for remediation. This is in the best interest of worker safety and will also give confidence to the buyer community.”

Aside from the issue of factory safety, however, garment manufacturers last month moved to play down fears that international retailers are postponing trips to Bangladesh following the recent killings of two foreign nationals in the country.

This is one of many issues Bangladesh's garment industry needs to overcome if it is to achieve its goal of doubling exports to $50bn by 2021 – with market diversification, worker and factory safety, and ensuring a steady supply of skilled workers all on the list.