Cover of the book ‘The Rana Plaza Experience: Ensuring Wellbeing and Transforming the RMG Industry’ unveiled at IBA

Guests at the cover unveiling ceremony of the book 'The Rana Plaza Experience: Ensuring Wellbeing and Transforming the RMG Industry’ at IBA, Dhaka University on 18 April, 2023.

Cover unveiling ceremony of the book titled ‘The Rana Plaza Experience: Ensuring Wellbeing and Transforming the RMG Industry’ was held Tuesday (18th April) 11:00am at the Professor M Shafiullah Auditorium of The Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka.

The book is edited by professor Mohammad A Momen, director of IBA, DU and professor Syed Ferhat Anwar. The research was coordinated by Khaled Mahmud, associate professor of IBA, DU and Fatematuz Zahra Saqui, Lecturer at IBA, DU.

The book is dedicated to all the lives lost and the injured in the Rana plaza accident. Professor Momen discussed the book and presented the summary in brief. The book contains the history of RMG industry, turmoil during the Rana plaza accident, recovery, and the transformation of the RMG industry afterwards.

A total of 27 depth interviews were conducted for this research. The book analysed the responses of various stakeholders including buyers, foreign brands, journalists, labor unions, RMG workers, government agencies, press media, witnesses, photojournalists and victims.

IBA has interviewed 36 injured with up to 70 per cent of injury and families of two deceased. There were 26 females and 12 males. Four of them didn’t share the amount of compensation they received. Other than that all of them received an average compensation of Tk 264,000.

Government, NGOs, Factory owners and other associations helped them with compensation and get back to normal life as much as possible. They shared their grief and also mentioned that there were more that could have been done for them. It was an expensive learning for the RMG industry.

IBA also has surveyed 500 industry workers at different level using stratified sampling technique from 100 factories. The garment factories were selected from the MiB (Mapped in Bangladesh) database, spread over five major industrial zones around the country: Dhaka, Mymensingh, Narayanganj, Gazipur and Chattogram from where 180, 13, 108, 159 and 40 workers were interviewed respectively.

Workers were approached randomly for the survey during their lunch breaks or after their work. Candidates with at least an experience of over 6 months in the RMG industry were selected for the survey. Among these 500 workers, 335 were chosen from BGMEA member factories and others were form non BGMEA membership factories.

Among them 93 per cent of the workers intend on working in the industry for at least a minimum of 5 years. 91.2 per cent of workers mentioned that they receive bonus timely. 94.4 per cent workers are satisfied with their job. 80 per cent of workers are satisfied with their salary.

Around 95 per cent workers have a neutral to high satisfaction level regarding workplace facilities like toilet sanitation, lunch hour and canteen, pure drinking water, transportation facilities. 94 per cent workers have not faced any workplace injury. 84.2 per cent workers feel safe at their workplaces.

On an average, 75 per cent workers receive paid maternity and sick leaves. 69.4 per cent receive fire drill training from their workplaces. The researcher found that Labor Law was amended in 2013 and 2018 and Labor Rules promulgated in 2015 made these more favorable for workers. From 2013 to December 2021, a total of 49 complaints on unfair labor practices were submitted to the Department of Labor.

Of all the complaints, 10 have been settled and the hearing is under process for the remaining 39. There is an interesting finding that 90 women RMG workers are pursuing higher studies in a multicultural global environment at the Asian University for Women. Their salaries are being paid by their respective entrepreneurs.

The researchers also found that Bangladesh is the home of the highest number of green factories. Currently, the country has 193 LEED Green garments factories certified by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) of which 69 are platinum. 550 more factories are in the process of getting LEED certification.

None of the entrepreneurs said that buyers pushed them to establish green factories. They themselves have taken initiative to establish green factories. The researchers also reported that DANIDA supported 5 years long research project, CREATE, to investigate the Circular Economy transition in global garment value chains related to Bangladesh’s apparel industry.

The researchers also found that BGMEA joined the Fashion Industry Charter with an ambition to reduce GHG emissions by 30 per cent, reduce blue water footprint by 50 per cent, ensure gender equity by 100 per cent, and many more. They want to achieve all of these by 2030 under the umbrella of the Sustainable Strategic Vision 2030 for the RMG industry.

The researcher suggested that 10 years after Rana plaza, the RMG industry has made commendable accomplishments, yet more needs to be done to ensure a sustainable ecosystem in the industry. As far as compensation to workplace injuries is concerned, a legal framework to compensate workers is required.

The ongoing initiative of the employment injury scheme is expected to drive this long pending agenda to a resolution which must set forth a national employee injury insurance framework across the board with the roles and responsibilities of the insurance authorities clarified.

Though much progress has been made to ensure workers empowerment, there are quite a few ongoing issues urging further amendments to BLA and Rules which is currently in progress. More efforts are required to create an enabling environment for social dialogue and create a proper culture of safety.

The researcher further suggested that industry safety monitoring and remediation momentum has to continue while a holistic approach is required to ensure befitting administrative and enforcement mechanisms and capacity at the national level and thus reduce external intervention.

Transparency and traceability are not only a global urge but this is important to ensure responsible business across global supply chain. Fair and equitable share across the value chain, especially for the downstream, has to be ensured which includes fair price, sustainable trading terms and ethical sourcing practices.

Researchers further emphasised on the grievance-handling mechanism, which has been digitised by the government yet further actions are required to reduce the trust gap. Earning the confidence of the critical stakeholders and social partners will be crucial to change the overall industry narrative in the longer term.

The researchers strongly recommend that while pursuing the musts, workers wellbeing i.e. nutrition, health, education and housing have to be paid more attention. Here public private partnerships can play a greater role to ensure a social safety net for the working class.

A critical lesson from Rana Plaza is the unity across the global supply chain which made Accord Alliance, and national initiative to carry out such a gigantic task of industry safety overhaul possible in just a few years. Such unity and collaboration is required to ensure a proper industrial ecosystem having bigger objectives like reducing audit fatigue and pursuing emerging due diligence requirements.

All these require more support, commitment, and partnership from global partners like buyers, development partners, and foreign governments; not through punitive measures but through handholding. The ceremony brought together a distinguished panel of discussants that shed light on the importance of ensuring the well-being of workers in the RMG industry and transforming it for the better.

Syed Ferhat Anwar, professor and former director of IBA, highlighted the need for academic research and policy analysis to inform the RMG industry's transformation. Md Atiqul Islam, mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation, former president of BGMEA, shared his experience of leading the RMG industry through a period of significant change.

Nurul Islam, general secretary, United Federation of Garments Workers, highlighted the importance of workers' rights and collective effort in ensuring the wellbeing of workers in the RMG industry. Shyamal Dutta, editor of Daily Bhorer Kagoj, reflected on the role of the media in raising awareness and driving change in the RMG industry.

Faruque Hassan, president of BGMEA, highlighted the BGMEA's role in transforming the RMG industry and ensuring the wellbeing of workers. Representatives from press media, labor unions, and civil society were present in this ceremony.

The book cover unveiling ceremony promises to be a thought-provoking and insightful event, bringing together leading voices from academia, industry, press, labor unions, and civil society to discuss one of the most pressing issues facing the RMG industry in Bangladesh.