The Platform


Is Bangladesh finally getting serious about worker safety?

In the wake of a five-day visit by an EU delegation to assess labor conditions, Bangladesh emerges as a beacon of reform in the global garment industry. From November 12-16, the delegation witnessed the nation’s substantial progress since the notorious Rana Plaza catastrophe in 2013—a disaster that claimed over a thousand lives but sparked a revolutionary transformation. Today, Bangladesh stands as a global exemplar, having instituted rigorous safety measures and environmental initiatives, ensuring the protection and dignity of its workforce—a testament to its relentless pursuit of industrial betterment.

The Rana Plaza disaster marked a turning point for the prêt-à-porter sector in Bangladesh. The harrowing loss of 1,134 workers ignited a nationwide and global reassessment of safety standards, leading to sweeping reforms across the industry. The response was robust and swift: substantial investments were allocated to upgrade factory infrastructure, fire safety, and electrical systems, propelling Bangladesh to the forefront of workplace safety and sustainable practices in the garment manufacturing sphere.

Bangladesh’s commitment to worker safety is underscored by its attainment of numerous safety certifications from esteemed organizations such as BSCI, Accord, WRAP, and SEDEX. An impressive roster of 158 LEED-certified green RMG factories—with 500 more awaiting certification—confirms the industry’s dedication to safety and environmental stewardship, offering reassurance to global partners and consumers alike.

The transformation of Bangladesh’s off-the-rack sector is a story of international and local synergy. Landmark initiatives, such as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Accord, were instrumental in elevating safety standards post-Rana Plaza. These collaborations facilitated comprehensive factory inspections and rectifications, benefiting over a million workers through rigorous audits and the establishment of nearly 56,000 inspections, amending 140,000 health and safety issues.

In 2020, the RMG Sustainability Council, comprised of industry stakeholders, assumed the mantle of safeguarding worker safety, driving further advancements in workers’ rights, safety, and transparency. Collaborative efforts with the ILO and the FBCCI aim to enhance occupational safety across various economic sectors, signaling a continued commitment to a culture of safety and health in the workplace.

Central to Bangladesh’s safety initiatives is the empowerment of its workers. The formation of over 1,200 joint labor-management safety committees and the resolution of thousands of complaints through independent mechanisms represent significant strides in fostering a proactive safety culture within the fashion sector.

The government’s unwavering dedication to a safe work environment is evident in its comprehensive legislative reforms, such as the Labor (Amendment) Act of 2013 and the establishment of a National Occupational Safety and Health Policy. These reforms showcase a dynamic approach to workplace safety, including the formation of safety committees, and health centers, and the appointment of safety officers in large workspaces.

Bangladesh’s journey from the somber shadows of industrial tragedies to a position of global leadership in safety and sustainability is nothing short of remarkable. The nation’s steadfast commitment, augmented by strategic investments, collaborations, and regulatory reforms, has not only safeguarded the well-being of its garment workers but also set a precedent for other nations. As Bangladesh strides toward a future marked by safety, sustainability, and responsible industry practices, it stands as an inspiring model of how a nation can indeed turn profound tragedy into a resounding triumph.

Sadia Aktar Korobi is currently studying Peace and Conflict Studies at Dhaka University. Since 2019, Sadia has been a member of the Right to Peace Foundation.