Readymade Garment (RMG) industry has immense contribution to the national economy of Bangladesh. After the incidences in 2012 and 2013, the Government of Bangladesh, private sector, workers’ associations, overseas buyers, development partners and International Labour Organization (ILO), Accord, Alliance - all have come up with resources to put in place specific reform programmes to this end. In this perspective, A ` National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity’ (NTPA) adopted by the Government is believed to be potentially capable of addressing the whole gamut of issues that have emerged following the fire and building collapse. Thereafter the ILO, European Union (EU), United States of America and the Government of Bangladesh jointly adopted ‘Sustainability Compact’ in Geneva in July 2013. As part of the commitments therein the NTPA and Compact in relation to workplace safety, the Government of Bangladesh developed single parameter with the assistance of ILO to assess the export oriented RMG factories regarding fire, electrical safety and structural integrity. Following the parameter the three actors namely: Accord, Alliance and National Initiative (NI) assessed 3780 R MG factories primarily.
Many non-compliances with national standards were found in the factories during assessment. The non-compliances were listed and shared with respective factory owners with recommendations of making Corrective Action Plan (CAP) towards ensuring workplace safety. The factories under Accord and Alliance implemented the CAPs. It was expected that the factories under NI would implement the CAPs by their own initiative and the government represented by Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) will provide necessary supports. The government put emphasis on the Implementation of CAPs and thus complete remediation works in all the factories. A Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) was set up by the DIFE together with other industry regulators to manage the remediation process for RMG factories. To strengthen RCC, DIFE has appointed 60 engineers under a government funded project lead by a senior level government officer to monitor the implementation of CAPs and to support the factory owners in this respect. ILO is supporting RCC with a team of 54 members including 47 Engineers. The team is working for capacity building of RCC and to boast up the remediation progress as per CAPs. The DIFE has engaged its safety unit, 26 Engineers and assigned Field level officers to coordinate the total effort.
The progress of implementation of CAPs is not at the expected level during the time elapsed. Many of the factories are seen inactive or in mood of deferring the remediation works. The situation demands to take measures for the non-compliance within legal framework. Hence an Escalation Protocol containing a series of steps to be taken about non-compliant factories starting from awareness building to closure of its operation. The objectives of the protocol have been defined on the basis of goal of the remediation process. For better clarity a brief of usual remediation process has also been a part of this protocol.
This protocol spells out requirements for the cases not meeting CAP deadlines to address safety non-compliances. Where the factories unwilling to comply with the requirements, this protocol will set out the process how government and industry partners will respond to them following gradual harder steps leading to closure.
Since the process of assessment and remediation implicate some organizations and Institutions, this protocol includes roles of them in brief. Finally, the protocol has been concluded with summary of gradual harder steps in the cases of non-compliant factories towards completion of remediation works.
The objectives of the Escalation Protocol are:
- Expedite remediation of the RMG factories lacking structural and or electrical and or fire safety;
- Ensure workplace safety in terms of structural and or Electrical and or Fire at the RMG factories.
- Take measures against non-compliant RMG factories unwilling to assess and remediate as per the plan and schedule; and
- Make the RMG industries sustainable
Roles and Responsibilities of regulatory organizations, committees and teams
- National Tripartite Committee(NTC):
The functions of the NTC will be as follows:
ToR of NTC
- To monitor progress in implementation of the activities in the Plan of Action;
- To review and update the Plan of Action as necessary, including for activities to be carried out;
- To develop ways through which other stakeholders can support implementation of - and coordination with - the Plan of Action;
- To report to the Cabinet Committee on the Ready-Made Garment Sector; and
- To recommend necessary action to be taken to the Cabinet Committee.
- RCC Management Team:
The RCC management team led by the IG-DIFE is responsible for the following:
- Conduct day-to-day operation of the RCC and to inform NTC about RCC progress.
- Review all the cases and take action as per protocol.
- Determine within 48 hours of notice whether a factory case that pose an immediate risk to life should be referred to review panel.
- Confirm action about the factory cases referred by the Review panel following the Standard or Expedited Escalation Protocolas applicable.
- Refer the cases to NTC requesting intervention in cases that have exhausted Round 6 of the Standard Escalation Protocol or Round 4 for Expedited Escalation Protocol.
- Review Panel:
Functions of the Review Panel will be as follows:
- To assess recommendation of closure of a factory building within 48 hours of BUET decision;
- Final decision of closure of the factory will be based on unanimous recommendation of four engineers of the review panel;
- If the review panel could not agree on a unanimous decision the case should be referred to the NTC for final decision. During this period the factory will remain closed.
- The ILO will provide with the technical and financial assistances to the review panel; and
- The review panel will meet on need basis.
- Engineering Support Technical Team:
- The Engineering Support Technical Team will receive escalated cases and will immediately follow-up each case for its action.
- The Team will consult with the respective employers’ association representatives (BGMEA or BKMEA) on the case as required and suggest RCC Management Team for support of BGMEA or BKMEA about the said case according to protocol.
- The Team will keep the RCC Management team informed on the progress of the case.
- The Team will check and suggest Expedited Escalation Protocol where necessary.
- Engineering Support Team:
- The Engineering Support Team will follow up on all factories under the remit of the RCC (i.e. National Initiative factories and any factory transferred from Accord and Alliance).
- The Team will determine if the requirements of the Corrective Actions Plans (CAPs) are being met within the prescribed timeframes. If the Engineering Support Team notice any CAP item that does not meet the timeframe, they will determine whether the non-compliance warrants escalation or if it can be addressed on the spot.
- This Team will check and suggest Standard Escalation Protocol where necessary.
- If the non-compliance is addressed on the spot in presence of the Engineering Support Team, then the compliance will be documented and reported to RCC with a recommendation of unannounced follow-up. However, the team will notify the factory owner that the on the spot correction will be forwarded to the RCC management for future unannounced follow-up.
- If the non-compliance cannot be addressed on the spot and/or has expired its prescribed remediation timeframe, then the team will flag the case for escalation and forward the said case to RCC Management for follow-up.
- The factory condition poses an immediate threat to workplace safety, the team will the case for Expedited Escalation Protocol.
- Lead Case Handler:
The Lead Case Handler (LCH) will take escalated cases and review them to ensure that all documentation and supporting evidence is part of the case. The LCH will also verify documents and examine that routing sheets are properly signed, dated, and time stamped. Besides, the LCH will verify that the information on the case and routing sheet match the information in the secure database. Once information is validated, the LCH will forward the case for escalation.
- Case Handler:
The Case Handler will receive escalated cases and log the said case based on the report of the Engineering Support Team. Upon receipt of the escalated case, a routing sheet will be attached indicating the case category. The member of the Engineering Support Team who delivered the case and the Case Handler will sign with date and time stamp the routing sheet. The escalated case will then be prioritized and logged electronically into a secure database.
- BGMEA and BKMEA:
The Employers Associations namely, The Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA)and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) shall work together with RCC management to ensure the full participation of factories in remediation activities.
They will in particular:
- Support and motivate the factory owners/management to take concrete, time-bound remediation efforts;
- Provide information on available technical options and financial services for remediation;
- Assign and make available representatives to support remediation follow up;
- Systematically update and provide to the RCC the RMG export and general factory registry based on UD clearances and at minimum on a quarterly basis.
- Flag out factories that cannot show DIFE registration and have gone through safety assessment processes either by National Initiative, Accord or Alliance;
- When RCC escalation process is undertaken, support and motivate positive remediation outcomes;
- In case of non-compliance BGMEA and BKMEA will use sanctions on services such as suspension of the issuance of UD to the factory, in order to assist the authorities in cessation of operations of the non-compliant factories.
IT Support Team:
Data, information and knowledge generated from the remediation process will be captured through an integrated knowledge management system (IKMS). The IKMS will allow institutional partners access to information through a ‘single window’. The IKMS will be able to provide real-time remediation status and facilitate work of the parties involved in the remediation process. Additionally, remediation data will be made available to buyers interested in sourcing from Bangladesh. The IKMS will ensure transparency and information availability to stakeholders through a publically accessible platform.
Factory Remediation Process as usual
The remediation process goes through our stages that range from preliminary assessment to issuance of ‘business as usual’. The process may be termed as a mechanism to ensure sustainable compliance in the RMG industry. The four stages are as follows:
- Preliminary Assessment
- Approval of CAP and Design/Drawing/Detailed Engineering Assessment (if any)
- Remediation Work
- Sustainable inspection mechanism
- The factory will enter the RCC process and must undergo a preliminary assessment at won cost which requires new Registration with or license from DIFE or the factory already has registration but unassessed. The preliminary assessment must be conducted by DIFE authorized Engineering Firm.
- Once the assessment is complete, the report is provided to the RCC for validation and uploading to the DIFE database. Once validated, the factory management is required to develop a Corrective Action Plan (CAP). The DIFE has a resource team to assist them in developing a CAP.Once the CAP is prepared, the CAP should be submitted to the RCC Management Team RCC will approve the CAP after it has got validation from the Case Handling team .Once the CAP is approved, then the remediation process will begin. Followed by the approved CAP the factory owner will get the required Design/Drawings/DEA approved by RCC.
- The factories will accomplish remediation works as suggested in the CAPs.
- RCC-DIFE will follow-up the remediation works and sustainability of the work place safety through a stable inspection mechanism.
- The factory will follow a normal factory remediation process as outlined in the four stages of remediation listed above. If a factory fails to meet the time-bound requirements of the CAP, then said factory will enter an escalation process for non-compliance. This process will have six rounds for standard escalation process and four rounds for expedited escalation process designed to give the factory owner ample opportunity to comply with CAP requirements.
Escalation for non-compliance
The escalation protocol exists as a deterrent to factories deferring remediation. There will be two forms of escalation: Standard and Expedited. Standard escalation will be recommended by the Engineering Support Team. Expedited escalation will be recommended by Engineering Support Technical Team.
Once a factory has entered escalation, it must begin to show progress within the escalation timelines or it will move to the next round of escalation.
Any major non-conformance that is deemed to place an imminent threat to human life must be acted upon immediately by the factory. If the factory fails to act, they will directly enter Expedited Escalation. The IG-DIFE will use all tools at his disposal for immediate action for expedited factories that are not willing to comply.
Standard Escalation Process
Round 1 – Warning Meeting.
If the Engineering Support Team determines that the factory did not meet the time-bound agreement in the CAP or if other issues of non-compliance are found, then there will be a requirement to hold a meeting. The meeting will comprise of the responsible employers association, RCC Engineering Support Team and Case Handler assigned to the factory and factory management. The meeting will give the factory management opportunity to explain the non-compliance issue and a decision will be made whether to revise the timeline of the respective Non-Compliance NC).
If agreed, the timeline will be extended not more than four weeks. Failure to meet the revised time-bound agreement of progress will cause escalation to Round 2.
Round 2 – 1st Warning Letter Issued.
The factory will be issued a first warning letter from the RCC management headed by the IG-DIFE. The Warning Letter and supporting documents will be handed over to RCC Case Handlers for further action. The Case Handler will log a status update and supporting information in the RCC IKMS. This information will be communicated to the respective employers’ associations so that they can ensure its members are provided necessary support to meet CAP requirements.
The factory will receive the Warning Letter and have no more than two weeks to comply. Failure to meet the revised time-bound agreement of progress will cause escalation to Round 3.
Round 3 – 2nd Warning Letter Issued.
The factory will be issued a second warning letter from RCC management .The Warning Letter and supporting documents will be handed over to RCC Case Handlers for further action. After issuing second warning letter license renewal from DIFE will be postponed. The Case Handler will log a status update and supporting information in the RCC-IKMS. This information will be communicated to the respective employers’ associations so that they can continue to ensure its members are provided necessary support to meet CAP requirements.
The factory will receive the Warning Letter and have no more than two weeks to comply. Failure to meet the revised time-bound agreement of progress will cause escalation to Round 4.
Round 4 – Factory export license suspended.
Upon entry into Round 4, the notice will be handed over to the RCC Case Handler for further action. The Case Handler will log a status update and supporting information in the RCC IKMS.The respective employers association will be notified and requested to suspend the UD from the factory for a minimum of 3 months for non-compliance. The factory management can reapply for UD only after 3months have passed from the time of suspension. If evidence is presented to show that the factory is meeting its agreed time-bound CAP requirements, then the UD may be reissued.
After the UD is reissued, the Case Handler will update the status of the factory into the RCC-IKMS. The field engineers will resume their visits.
Even with UD suspension, the factory will still be required to meet its time-bound CAP requirements. The factory will have no more than six weeks to comply with this requirement. If the factory is still in non-compliance, then the factory will be escalated into Round 5.
Round 5 – Final notice before closure.
Upon entry into round 5, the factory owner will be noticed to meet IG-DIFE in presence of the representative of respective employers association and labor organization where he will be given a final warning letter to start remediation works within two weeks. If the factory is still in non-compliance or postpones work any time, then it will be escalated into Round 6.
Round 6 – Factory closure Order.
Upon entry into round 6, the IG-DIFE will issue a letter as per section-61(2) BLA 2006 for suspending production of the factory. The respective employers association will be notified and requested to permanently revoke the UD.
In case of Non-Compliance to Closure Order, RCC will elevate the case to NTC for further action.
Nothing of this Protocol will bar DIFE to take action at any stage against an unsafe factory according to the regulatory mandate vested upon it.
Expedited Escalation Process
Any major non-compliance that is deemed to place an imminent threat to human life must be acted upon immediately by the factory. If the factory fails to act, it automatically enters expedited escalation.
A list of major non-compliances is to be developed by the RCC Engineering Support Team and approved by the Engineering Support Technical Team. This will be published on the RCC website. The RCC is responsible for making factories fully aware of the significance of expedited escalation and will provide clear information to the factories on its obligations.
Round 1 – Warning Meeting.
If the Engineering Support Team determines that the factory did not meet the time-bound agreement in the CAP or if other issues of non-compliance are found that warrants an expedited escalation, then they will instantly seek initiation of the expedited escalation process from the Engineering Support Technical Team.
If the Engineering Support Technical Team decides and suggests RCC for expedited escalation and the factory owner does not challenge decision, then RCC will hold a meeting immediately with the responsible employers association, RCC Case Handler and Senior Engineer assigned to the factory and factory management. The meeting will give the factory management the opportunity to explain the non-compliance issue, and a decision will be made whether to revise the timeline of the respective CAP item.
If agreed, the timeline will be adjusted to no more than one week. Failure to meet the revised time-bound agreement of progress will cause escalation to Round 2.
However, RCC will refer the case to the Review Panel if the decision of the Engineering Support Technical Team is challenged by the owner of the factory.Then this round will be started after decision of the Review Panel.
Round 2 – 1st Warning Letter Issued.
The factory will be issued a first warning letter from RCC management headed by the IG-DIFE. The Warning Letter and supporting documents will be handed over to RCC Case Handlers for further action. The Case Handler will log a status update and supporting information in the RCC-IKMS. This information will be communicated to the respective employers’ associations so that they can ensure its members are provided necessary support to meet CAP requirements. The factory will receive the Warning Letter and have no more than two weeks to comply. Failure to meet the agreed revised timeline for remediation progress will cause escalation to Round 3.
Round 3 – Final notice before closure. Upon entry into round 3, the factory owner will be noticed to meet IG-DIFE in presence of the representative of respective employers association and labor organization where he will be given a final warning letter to start remediation works within one week. If the factory is still in non-compliance or postpones work any time, then it will be escalated into Round 4.
Round 4 – Factory closure order. Upon entry into Round 4, the notice will be handed over to RCC Case Handlers for further action. The Case Handler will log a status update and supporting information in the RCC IKMS. The IG-DIFE will issue a letter as per section 61(2) BLA 2006 for prohibiting use of the factory building. Besides, the respective employers association will be notified and requested to permanently revoke the UD.
In case of Non-Compliance to Closure Order, RCC-DIFE will elevate the case to NTC for further action.
Nothing of this Protocol will bar DIFE to take action at any stage against an unsafe factory according to the regulatory mandate vested upon it.