texfash.com: You have been consulting in Bangladesh since 2007. What are the major changes that the textiles-apparel-fashion industry has been witness to before and after the Rana Plaza disaster? What, according to you, has been the most striking difference?
Rajesh Bheda: The Rana Plaza disaster was a huge shock and an immense, almost unbelievable, human tragedy. It gave a jolt to collective conscience of the people, not only in Bangladesh but across the world, specially the apparel world. It brought building safety under sharp focus for all stakeholders including garment factory owners, international brands, industry associations BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) and BKMEA (Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association), government agencies, civil society, worker organisations and workers.
Though, fire safety was recognised as a risk due to the Tazreen factory fire and other smaller incidences earlier, till the Rana Plaza disaster, structural safety risks were not fully known or the disastrous possible consequences to human lives were not fully understood. There was also very little capacity in the country to undertake wide spread building safety assessment and develop remedial plans.
The defining moment towards improving the safety standards was the signing of ‘Accord for Fire and Building Safety’ and ‘Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety’. Teams put together under the Accord and Alliance were mandated to carry out the safety assessments. Under these agreements, major international buyers agreed to contribute towards factory inspections of about 2,500 factories. The inspections identified corrective actions factory owners needed to undertake, at their expense.
Corrective action plan implementations were evaluated, and factories were certified for safety. This can be recognised as one of the largest coordinated efforts by diverse stakeholders to improve the factory safety standards in any country in recent history. If you look at any new building around Greater Dhaka, the improved construction standards are clearly visible.