Dhaka (AFP) - Bangladesh and the International Labour Organization on Tuesday launched a $24 million safety campaign, the latest effort to overhaul appalling conditions at the nation's clothing factories after a string of deadly disasters.
Experts will conduct safety inspections at more than 1,000 factories as part of the multi-year campaign, after a garment factory collapse in April killed 1,132 people and highlighted the industry's poor safety standards.
The campaign will target factories that operate as sub-contractors or produce garments for lesser-known Western retailers, and have not signed up to new safety accords established since the disaster.
"The ready-made garment industry is vital to Bangladesh's economic growth but it needs to be safe and sustainable," ILO director-general Guy Ryder said in a statement.
"We want to bring the number of industrial accidents to a tolerable limit," the government's top labour official Mikail Shipar told AFP. "There will be zero tolerance to poor working conditions in our factories."
A blaze at the Tazreen garment factory in Dhaka killed 111 workers last November, the country's worst such fire tragedy, and revealed unauthorised sub-contracting of orders from Western groups.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building, where workers toiled for long hours and poor pay to make clothes for Western retailers, focused attention like never before on factory conditions in Bangladesh, the world's second largest garment producer.
Many EU retailers have signed up to a new safety accord since the April disaster, pledging improved conditions at factories, while US retailers have launched a separate pact.
The retailers this month released lists of about 2,000 factories they planned to inspect from later this year.
Under the new scheme launched at a ceremony in Dhaka, experts will carry out inspections, including on the structural stability of buildings housing the factories, with $24 million in funding from the Dutch, British and Canadian governments.
Shipar said the campaign would target about half of Bangladesh's 4,500 factories, but the ILO said some 1,200 plants would be scrutinised.
"The experts will make preliminary assessments of the structural integrity and fire safety of between 1,000 and 1,250 garment factories," ILO official Lejo Sibbel told AFP.
Thirty teams led by experts from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), the country's top engineering institution, would carry out the inspections, Shipar said.
"Our inspections will mostly cover mid-level and sub-contracting factories. They are the most accident prone," he said.
"Since we have limited resources, our drive will be concentrated on the factories not being inspected by top European and American retailers."
Some government-run assessments have been carried out since the Tazreen and Rana Plaza tragedies, but there have been too few inspectors, of which many lack the necessary technical expertise.
A BUET survey conducted after the Rana Plaza disaster found about 90 percent of the buildings housing factories in Bangladesh were structurally unsafe.
Fire has killed more than 700 Bangladeshi workers since 2006, according to workers right group, Clean Clothes Campaign.Seven workers were killed in the latest such accident early this month when a factory, which was making fabric for top Western retailers, caught fire outside the capital Dhaka.