Sunday, April 28, 2013

Global Worker Safety Certification - A Practical Solution for Garments Industry In Bangladesh

Fire in Tajrin Garments in Savar, Bangladesh kills 120 garments workers. This is just government estimation, which is always less than the amount mentioned. Then Rana Plaza collapse in Savar shook the nation. See the footage from BBC:

These 2 incidents are not the only incident that happened in the Garments Industry of Bangladesh. There has been many deaths in the garments industry of Bangladesh in previous years. And that's why we need to seek a sustainable solution.

Global Worker Safety Certification

ISO Certification is provided based on Products and Service Quality. There is also ISO 14000 certification for Environmental Compliance. But, after reading the list of ISO Standards in Wikipedia, I did not find anything that relates to Worker Safety.

If not ISO, we really need some sort of Worker Safety Compliance Authority for this. Those, who will certify a company based on worker safety on issues like:

  • Workplace Safety
    • Building
    • Fire
    • Equipment Handling
  • Worker Health Safety
  • Worker Food Safety
  • Worker Safety related to Social Issues

To make it really work for the local companies that does not have enough fund for safety measures, the global authorities can localize the service by setting up offices in the country.

Large Brands that buy services from the Bangladeshi Garments Industry, should not deal with any company that does not have the Worker Safety Certification. If a company want to outsource the work, they should clearly mention it and the outsourced company should also have this certification.

Who should pay for this?

As far as I know, large brands like H&M, GAP, Old Navy, Wall Mart, JC Penny outsource their need for garments to Bangladesh to reduce cost for labor. They might not be interested to pay for extrasafety and increase their costs.

The responsibility of the worker safety guarantee should not be given to the companies. It'll not create much credibility. I've talked with the head of one of the largest garments companies in Bangladesh. He is the relative of the owner and he frankly admitted that, he knows nothing about compliance. Just because a large amount of money is spent for compliance, garments owners employ a trusted person in this position to avoid wastage of funds. And that's why relatives are used in this position, who does not have any professional skill on maintaining worker safety.

The large garments brands may not be happy with the guarantee offered by the government. Since, the government would always favor the local industry (if not, they should). What they can do is subsidize or sponsor the certification, so that small and medium-sized companies can afford it.

So, it should be the garments companies who should pay for this certification. And they will, once all the large brands starts to stop dealing with companies that do not have this certification.

How will this benefit all?

It'll undoubtedly help people and companies involved in this industry both in Bangladesh and other countries. Here are some:

  • It'll help large garment brands to get rid of the liability to ensure worker safety. Also relieve them from some costs they have to maintain. If anything goes wrong, they can point the finger to the certifying authority,
  • Many Bangladeshi garments companies do not use professional safety consultants. If these certifying authorities bring in professional people, then the whole safety compliance thing will be more professional at global scale,
  • It'll help to grow a new service industry, i.e. "Professional Worker Safety Compliance Auditors" in low wage countries like Bangladesh.
Disclaimer: This is just an idea put forward. I am not an expert at Worker Safety nor do I know if any such certification already exists. Please comment below for me as well as readers if you have any knowledge on this issue.