Remediation continues to be the principal focus area of the Bangladesh readymade garment sector ever since the tragic Rana Plaza disaster! In the aftermath of the incident, global brands introduced Accord and Alliance – representing two different sets of retailers – to make the country’s garment sector safe and secure.
After spending years correcting the flaws of supplier factories, Alliance called it a day. And, not too long after came into being Nirapon, replacing the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety to oversee the building safety, inspection and remediation of garment factories in Bangladesh.
“I am proud to announce the inauguration of a brand-initiated, locally oriented organisation, ‘Nirapon, whose mission is to strengthen the safety achievements that Bangladeshi RMG industry has reached so far,” stated Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury, a prominent architect of Bangladesh, and Chairman of Nirapon board, at the launch of platform, adding, “…it will use a brand-led approach of safety monitoring, oversight and reporting services for our subscribed members based on the laws of Bangladesh to help member factories build their own self-sustaining culture of safety.”
Despite being a home-grown entity, which was expected to understand the bottlenecks and challenges factory owners often face in carrying out certain aspects of remediation, and accordingly prescribe ways and means to overcome those to make the industry a safer place, Nirapon soon got embroiled in controversy with garment manufacturers alleging Nirapon of what they called creating confusion over safety standards besides adding new cost burden in the name of monitoring and training.
“After the departure of Alliance, factories have been conducting in-house training on health and safety and maintaining safety standards prescribed by the Alliance. So, fulfilling the old requirements on compliance issue in a new format will be wastage of time and labour,” garment makers said taking part in a views exchange meeting of stakeholders organised by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
They also alleged that Nirapon was creating market for service providers, especially for local training providers and qualified assessment firms, which the manufacturers could not afford after investing huge amount of money to ensure workplace safety in last 5 years.
Before the issues raised by the apparel makers could make any headway towards resolution, Dragon Sweater and Spinning Limited approached the judiciary requesting it to ensure that Nirapon be brought under the common platform of RMG Sustainability Council (RSC).
It may be mentioned here that the European retailers’ group Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the Alliance, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), brands, buyers and trade unions on 3 September agreed to form the RSC by 15 November to ensure safety in Bangladesh garment factories. This was done in an effort to standardise the remediation process and contain discrepancy, as each safety platform has its own set of rules and regulations, which at times overlap with those of others.
Hearing the writ petition filed by Dragon Sweater and Spinning Limited, a High Court bench of Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Khandaker Diliruzzaman issued an order banning Nirapon for 6 months. The court further asked Nirapon to explain within 2 weeks why it should not be ordered to join the RMG Sustainability Council.
The recent turn of events, though unfortunate, has not only raised questions on Nirapon’s working but also its credibility and intent towards making the Bangladesh readymade garment sector safe and sustainable in its true essence.