Officials in Bangladesh’s government are refusing to shut down several garment factories that independent inspectors have deemed unsafe, as personnel argue over an issue of concrete strength. The dispute – which pits Bangladeshi leaders against engineers hired by a retailers’ group called the Accord – focuses on factories built before 2005 and whether the materials used are strong enough to ensure the safety of workers.
“It’s a tricky issue,” Syed Ahmed, Bangladesh’s Inspector General of Factories, told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “Until the debate on concrete strength is resolved, we’re not shutting down any factories recommended by the Accord.”
Inspectors from the Accord rate the concrete strength much lower than estimates from Bangladesh’s main engineering university, which advises the government. This latest dispute follows the closure of 14 factories based on the Accord’s recommendations, resulting in 10,000 job losses. The sensitivity of the concrete issue is heightened, following last year’s Rana Plaza complex collapse that killed 1,138 people. Yet, garment factory owners hold great influence in Bangladesh, as apparel spurs the nation’s economy.
“We’re disappointed that the inspector general did not close down the unsafe factories,” Brad Loewen, the Accord’s chief inspector, told AFP. “We’re working with the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology on the concrete strength issue.”
The Accord, which includes retailers like H&M and Benetton, is seeking the closure of six additional factories over concrete strength. There are currently 3,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, which is the world’s second-largest apparel manufacturer. The Asian country’s garment sector generates $22 billion each year.