Labour inspection

Safe work safe food

Feature | Dhaka | 24 June 2019
A labour inspector uses mobile tab during factory visit. The tab has a digitalised application called LIMA to record, store and centralize all inspection data.
DHAKA (ILO News) - Every minute, hundreds of blue and yellow tubs of yoghurt glide along a conveyor belt in batches of eight. Hordes of women and men clad in crisp white aprons, gum boots and protective masks lift the cartons and store them in a freezer.

This yoghurt factory is run by the Grameen Danone group, a social business enterprise that produces 100,000 tubs of yoghurt daily and directly employs 300 people. The production plant is located in the northern district of Bogura which is home to 3.7 million Bangladeshis mainly involved in agro-business.

Amidst the snaking lines of yoghurt, during a recent familiarization visit a tall man with glasses quietly taps away on a mobile tablet while asking a factory worker questions. Shah Mofakharul Alam is a labour inspector working at the Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishment (DIFE), a national regulatory body that monitors working conditions in factories and enterprises. DIFE has a six-member team based in Bogura. Around 600 shops, warehouses and factories across a 60 km radius fall under DIFE’s inspection jurisdiction in the district.

Alam uses a digital software application called LIMA to record inspection data related to the welfare of workers. The data ranges from working hours, wages, use of safety equipment to maternity benefits among other provisions stipulated in the country’s labour law.

Alam says: “The majority of the establishments we inspect include rice mills, cold storage units, bakeries, and oil and tobacco factories. While the minimum wages vary across the food industry, long working hours is a common concern for those working in food manufacturing, processing, distribution and storage. Workers are also made to carry heavy loads which puts their health at risk.”

Alam adds that presently, the penalty for violating the labour law is very low, and the labour inspectors do not have the authority to fine defaulters on the spot. This means that establishments who have poor working conditions do not feel obligated or pressured to follow important safety rules.

To raise broader awareness on workers’ welfare, DIFE regularly conducts awareness sessions with enterprises and trade bodies and celebrates national Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Day on 28 April every year. With the ILO’s support, DIFE also runs a toll-free hotline number where anyone can call in to raise work-related concerns.

The ILO Country Director in Bangladesh, Tuomo Poutiainen recently visited Bogura to witness the labour inspectors in action. “Labour inspection plays an important role in monitoring and regulating the industry to ensure it is compliant with the national labour standard. However, we often see that inspections do not always result in penalties for those who break the law. The ILO is working closely with the government, employers and workers organisations to strengthen the labour inspection system in Bangladesh,” he said

Alam says, “Our health depends on the food we choose to eat. For the food to be safe, the food industry must have acceptable working conditions – not only for consumers but also for its workers.”

Disregarding the safety, health and welfare of workers not only jeopardises their lives and livelihoods, but can also harm enterprises by affecting productivity, competitiveness and reputation. To improve working conditions in Bangladesh, the ILO runs a programme in the country’s ready-made garment sector with funding from Canada, Netherlands and United Kingdom. Now in its second phase, the programme has worked closely with the Ministry of Labour to train more than 800,000 labour inspectors, employers and workers on occupational health and safety. Additionally the programme helped develop policies, guidelines and inspection checklists which can be used to regulate working hours, safety practices and other legal provisions in all industries.