In April 2013, the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100 garment workers. "Better vigilance, everyone figured, would be central to preventing similar accidents from happening again," writes Bloomberg. Yes, Western retailers, workers' rights organizations, and Bangladeshi factory owners came banded together after the terribly fatal event to incite change. With the help of the United Nations’ International Labour Organization, the Bangladesh labor ministry created its own inspection program and vowed to shut down unsafe facilities.
Now, three years have passed, while conditions in some factories in Bangladesh have improved, completing many of the fixes required by the inspectors sent by clothing brands, no shortage of the 1,600 factories covered by the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, are behind schedule on improvements. To be exact, 80 percent of the factories are still lacking.
Factories in a smaller brand-organized program, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, have also lagged.
"Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising," writes Bloomberg. "The craze for cheap, on-trend clothing that helped turn Bangladesh into the world’s second-biggest apparel exporter, after China, has actually intensified since the disaster. Low-priced brands keep undercutting one another, and that keeps squeezing the factories that produce their clothes."
Still, Bangladesh’s garment industry is still growing, with factories opening all the time; closing down bad ones, then, wouldn’t necessarily lead to overall job losses.
The good news is all this suggests the delays aren’t inevitable. Some adjustments to the brand-and government-run programs could, at least, speed progress. The ILO report, for example, recommended that the government help lower interest rates on loans and that more organizations chip in with capital for banks to lend out. More radically, brands could pay for some improvements themselves, and the government could close more of the factories that are behind on repairs while helping entrepreneurs open higher-quality facilities, perhaps with some aid from brands. But the Accord and Alliance programs are only in place till 2018. That leaves little time for change to happen.