UN official urges 'immediately and urgent' appointment of inspectors to regulate Bangladeshi garment industry

Guy Ryder, director-general of the International Labour Organisation, feels that if reforms are not initiated, many foreign companies will seek new production bases

The United Nations' top official in charge of labour has urged the Bangladesh government to “immediately and urgently” appoint hundreds of inspectors to control the disaster-prone low-cost garment industry, half of whose exports are to European Union countries. Guy Ryder, director-general of the International Labour Organisation, said there are currently only  a “negligible” number of inspectors - 55 - for a total national workforce of fifty million.

He told The Independent in an exclusive interview that this was one of two urgent steps need now to help prevent a recurrence of the disasters that have left over 400 factory workers dead last week in a building collapse and 112 dead in a factory fire last November

He said a national fire and safety programme had been agreed, but despite his own trip to Bangladesh last year, the government had repeatedly failed to get to grips with the problems in the industry that had led to the recent tragedies.

Mr Ryder has sent a top-level delegation to Dhaka, arriving on May Day, but it was not yet clear if the government, irritated by this intervention, would allow delegates to visit the scene of last week's disaster, sources in Bangladesh told The Independent.

The country's UK ambassador, in a television interview for ITN, laid the blame for the disaster on cut-throat bargaining for “every penny” by British and Western buyers. Primark is one of several UK firms that have offered to pay compensation to dead workers' families - the vast majority of whom are young women aged 19 to 26. Hundreds more are in hospital, many with amputated limbs crushed in the rubble.

Hundreds of “missing” notices and photographs have been plastered on walls near the scene of the collapse.

Sharon Sadeh, founder of a British company GreenGrade Solutions, that trains factories in Bangladesh and Cambodia to comply with international standards in garment industry, says the vast majority do not.

On his return to London from a gruelling week in discussions in Bangladesh, Mr Sadeh called on UK industry to effectively create a blacklist of offending factories or directors evading national and international standards on health and safety.

Mr Sadeh also  called for the European Union to issue  “immediate and credible threats” to remove what the preferential duty-free status unless the Bangladeshi government would “seriously tackle the collusion between factory owners and corrupt officials that help them”.

But Mr Ryder said, while Western companies needed to do more, the primary responsibility was the Bangladeshi government's. “The government has not acted on our urgings and exhortations to this point,” he stated.

He said he country earned 19 billion dollars annually from the garment exporting trade - around 80 per cent of its total foreign earnings - and “even as a developing country” needed to set aside sufficient resources to safeguard the workers and the industry as a whole.

The International Labour Organisation is offering to set up training programmes for proper inspections, but only when proper labour legislation is finally brought into law in Bangladesh, said Mr Ryder. Bangladesh is the world's second-largest exporter of garments behind China and has overtaken India. 

Mr Ryder feels that if Bangladesh does not institute very urgent and widespread reforms many foreign companies manufacturing or sourcing their garments will seek new production bases - with Myanmar a new contender.

“We have been calling for new Bangladeshi legislation for a number of years.  There is a new act approved by cabinet, but we have become used to long delays.”

He said the new law should enshrine the rights of workers to organise and defend their interests, an issue “brought to the surface by last week's events.

“Reforms must come - but tragically, it is too late for many people.”

Mr Sadeh predicted more disasters, probably caused by electrical faults or from fuel and boilers. He says between 85 to 90 per cent of the factories, which employ almost 4 million people, do not have proper safety standards.

But he conceded that Western governments and the EU may be loathe to act too firmly for fear of destabilising the politically sensitive country, and also because it could deprive the mainly female work-force from gainful employment in the clothing industry.

Paul Martin in editor-in-chief of ConflictZones.tv

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
News
peopleActress tells men: 'It's your issue too'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam