Safety audit finds thousands of problems in Bangladesh garment factories

Safety audit finds thousands of problems in Bangladesh garment factories

Safety audit finds thousands of problems in Bangladesh garment factories

Updated 15 October 2014, 20:15 AEDT

A comprehensive safety audit of Bangladesh garment factories has found thousands of major safety problems, following last year's Rana Plaza disaster that claimed over 1,100 lives.

A comprehensive safety audit of Bangladesh garment factories has found thousands of major safety problems, following last year's Rana Plaza disaster that claimed more than 1,100 lives.

Twenty factories were shut down after the inspections, but manufacturers declared the audit process a success following a rise in orders from European retailers.

The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, an umbrella group of nearly 200 European brands such as H&M and Carrefour, said inspectors discovered 80,000 safety hazards in the 1,106 factories investigated this year.

"We've found safety hazards in all factories ... from minor to significant," said chief safety inspector Brad Loewen.

Western retailers launched the unprecedented inspections following the 2013 cave-in of the nine-storey Rana Plaza factory complex that killed 1,138 people and injured more than 2,000.

The disaster highlighted lax safety standards in Bangladesh's more than 4,500 garment factories.

Retailers last year bought US$24.5 billion worth of clothing from the impoverished South Asian nation, much of it from plants where safety was a major problem.

Another retail group, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety representing mainly US brands such as Walmart and Gap, completed inspections of 587 factories in July.

Bangladesh's success in sewing clothes at low prices has made it the world's second-largest garment exporter after China.

Heavy machinery 'overloading floors'

Mr Loewen said inspectors found safety problems ranging from heavy machinery overloading floors to shoddy electrical wiring and lack of proper fire exits.

"More than 100 factories had to reduce their (machinery) load," he said.

Many factories must now undertake "expensive" repairs to their plants, he added, estimating the cost could top US$1 billion.

"A lot of work needs to be done to bring them up to safety standards," he said.

Manufacturers have sought low-interest loans from retailers to upgrade safety and a private-sector arm of the World Bank has also indicated willingness to extend cheap loans.

Bangladesh garment manufacturers said they were happy with the review's results after earlier voicing alarm that the inspections might hurt trade.

"We're very satisfied," said Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

"After Rana Plaza, a lot of people painted a doomsday scenario, saying most plants would be closed if inspections were conducted," he said.

"But the inspections by the two retailers' groups led to closure of only 20 factories - less than 1 per cent of total factories," he said.

Mr Azim said many brands which shunned Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza collapse have returned.

"There's been a retail order boom," he said.

Year-on-year growth in Bangladesh garment shipments hit a five-year-low of less than one per cent in the first quarter of the financial year starting in July.

Mr Azim said new orders would boost export growth as the year progressed.

AFP