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One year after Rana Plaza tragedy: progress in governance must be sustained

Key stakeholders including the government, various government agencies, the BGMEA, factory owners and buyers have made significant progress to cope with the multi-dimensional challenges of governance and corruption in the garments sector of Bangladesh that were responsible for exposing the sector to unprecedented vulnerabilities in the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy of April 24, 2013. This was reported today at a press conference held to launch a follow-up study of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).

The study also highlighted the importance of sustaining the progress in a more strategic way for which TIB proposed that a Garments Sector Governance Authority be set up to coordinate governance initiatives of multiplicity of actors and to ensure their transparent and accountable delivery against commitments. TIB called for responsible and ethical practice of all stakeholders particularly the relevant government agencies, garments owners and BGMEA in the supply side and buyers and their representative bodies in the demand side to protect the safety, security and rights of workers who are bound to be the worst victims of continued governance deficit and corruption in the sector.

The follow-up report “Governance Challenges in the Ready-made Garments Sector: Pledges and Progress” launched today at Abokash Hotel in Mohakhali was presided over by Sultana Kamal, Chairperson of TIB’s Board of Trustees. TIB’s Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzman and Mohammad Rafiqul Hassan, Director, Research and Policy also attended.

The study found that several industry stakeholders took a total of 102 initiatives of varying dimensions against 54 out of 63 types of governance challenges identified by TIB in its earlier report released on October 31 last year. Of the 102 initiatives, 31% of were implemented completely, 60% witnessed varying degrees of progress while 9% remained unaddressed, the new report said.

Launching the report, TIB’s Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman commended initiatives taken by the Government, various government departments, BGMEA, factory owners, buyers & their representative bodies that emerged since the tragedy. “Governance challenges in the sector are multi-dimensional while collusive corruption has been pervasive, which needed extraordinary efforts and the stakeholders have shown the commitment to face those head on”, he said.

However, these positive initiatives have only laid the necessary foundations which are far from sufficient to yield a sustainable change. Protracted delay in bringing to justice those responsible for multiple tragedies in the sector has caused disappointments. In spite of government commitment no practical progress has been made in moving the factories out to the proposed garments village. The pace of factory inspection by buyers and their forums as well as by the government is comparatively slow and in some cases did not represent desired level of transparency. Some inspectors representing buyers are subject to risk of conflict of interest.

No less important is the failure of a section of buyers to fully recognize ground realities resulting in withdrawal or cancellation of orders for over-zealous allegation of non-compliance without sufficient verification and protection measures which have led to closure of at least 50 factories resulting in termination of jobs for some 50,000 workers. “If this trend continues and if the buyers fail to conduct responsible and ethical business, thousands more are likely to lose their jobs resulting in punishing the workers for reasons with which they have nothing to do’, he said.

Lack of coordination of efforts by various actors has undermined the prospect of more visible and concrete progress. Highlighting the continued governance challenges and considering the importance of coordination the report placed several recommendations which included the proposal to set up a Garments Sector Governance Authority as a step towards TIB’s earlier proposal to establish a separate Ministry.

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