Experts at a programme on Saturday underscored the need for ensuring occupational and industrial safety as well as compliance to achieve the target of increasing the plastics and packaging industry market from around $4 billion to $10 billion by next five years.
They laid the emphasis while speaking at a workshop titled “Emerging safety risk in the plastic sector: What needs to be done?” jointly organised by Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BPGMEA), Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) at the auditorium of Economic Reporters Forum (ERF) in Dhaka.
While addressing the workshop, Country Director of International Labour Organization (ILO) Bangladesh Tuomo Poutiainen said occupational and industrial safety as well as compliance is very important issue to achieve the target set in the Plastic Industry Development Policy 2023.
“It is good time to ensure the safety and compliance for Bangladesh. Out of the RMG sector, different sectors particularly plastics and chemicals should be important here. A national action plan is badly needed to ensure occupational and industrial safety and compliance,” he added.
He opined that capacity building for small industries and training them up in this regard is crucial to prevent accidents. “To build better industries and safety environment for workers and workplace, the ILO will continue its support in future as well.”
Presenting a keynote paper, CPD Research Director Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem said the plastics industry is a major non-RMG sector in Bangladesh, with around 5,000 factories contributing approximately 1 per cent to the country's gross domestic product (GDP). While a significant portion of plastics products are intended for domestic markets, Bangladesh earned $210 million in FY2023 by exporting plastic goods.
“The plastics sector is labour-intensive in nature, resulting in significant safety concerns in the workplace. This indicates a pressing need for improved safety measures in plastics enterprises to sustain its growth. Lack of transparency and accountability in monitoring and enforcement by different public agencies further creates opportunities for factories to operate without proper safety standards,” he added.
Moazzem cited four challenges such as over-dominance of micro-small factories with poor compliance standards, prone to severe safety and health risks due to its location in residential areas and multi-storey rented spaces, over-focusing on the domestic market with little pressure on compliance from buyers and consumers, and lack of direct monitoring and surveillance of a large section of enterprises.
The economist also suggested that the government should immediately approve the proposal for relocation of about 1,200 factories currently in the residential areas and multi-storey buildings mainly in old Dhaka. Such relocation will immediately reduce the safety risks of old Dhaka as well as workers working in those factories.
“The Ministry of Industries should guide BSCIC for quickly and favourably implementation of the state-of-the-art industrial zone. Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) should immediately set up a separate unit under its Industrial Safety Unit which may be called ‘ISU-Plastic’. Such a unit will undertake standard monitoring and inspection following national and international safety protocol for factories which are outside old Dhaka.”
BPGMEA should take a leading role in making the plastics sector ‘next RMG of Bangladesh’. In this context, it should develop a five-year strategic plan. The current plan may be upgraded, focusing on sustainability and assessing occupational safety and health (OSH) issues, he recommended.
BPGMEA president Shamim Ahmed, former FBCCI president Md Jashim Uddin, and DIFE Joint Inspector General Md Matiur Rahaman also spoke at the programme.