Around the world, corruption hurts people. In many countries – like Bangladesh – it can even kill.
More than 600 people died and more than 1,000 were injured following the collapse of a building that housed several garment factories in Savar, near the capital city of Dhaka. While families mourn loved ones lost, the nation is asking how yet another preventable catastrophe in the workplace took such an enormous toll.
Savar’s tragedy is not the first; violations of building codes and faulty inspections have caused fatal accidents before. In November of last year, a fire swept through a textile factory outside of Dhaka and claimed the lives of more than 100 people. In 2005, 73 people were also killed in a different garment factory in Savar.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption.
No safety for workers
In the recent Savar tragedy, it is reported that cracks were found in the building only one day before the collapse. Industrial police officers and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association even asked the building owners to close the facility and to suspend factory operations prior to the collapse. While some businesses in the building evacuated their employees, garment factories – that produced products for brands including Mango, Primark and Wal-Mart – chose to ignore the warnings. Reports surfaced alleging that workers were forced to report to work under threat of salary deduction.
It was also found that four of the upper floors of the eight-storey building were illegally constructed.
Iftekhar Zaman, Executive Director of Transparency International Bangladesh, explains:
Foreign companies should share responsibility
The companies that contract Bangladeshi suppliers must take more responsibility for the safety of the workers they employ. They need to be more proactive and involved in the safety protocols and inspections. They should make ensuring strict compliance with best practice safety standards a prerequisite for doing business.
Change is needed
The Savar tragedies are reported as accidents, but there is nothing accidental about the circumstances. The deadly building collapse and factory fires were avoidable.
The following measures would improve the working conditions of factory employees, as well as combat corruption and impunity:
- Conduct a fully independent judicial probe into the Savar tragedy and bring to justice anyone found guilty in an exemplary manner;
- Set up a high-level independent committee of relevant experts to review the state of rights, safety and security of workers to produce a White Paper on the state of the garment sector and recommend measures for all stakeholders, particularly the government, relevant agencies and business – local and foreign;
- Increases in thorough safety measures and inspections
- Improve compliance of building codes and ensure integrity in the issuance of inspections certificates
- Create strong whistleblower protection and job security for workers who see wrongdoing
- Generate strong enforcement of the law and rules without favour or fear
Companies such as Wal-Mart are aware of the risks of doing business in Bangladesh as much as they are aware of the opportunities for quick profits due to low labour costs. The recent corporate social responsibility report from the company, for example, highlights what needs to be done in Bangladesh.
But it is not enough to recognise the problem. Companies need to be part of solution to work with government officials to ensure that the contractors they deal with provide the environment for their employees in Bangladesh to work safely – and with dignity.
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