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Bangladesh research, co-op readies master’s student for public policy career

June 05, 2017
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By Allen Tung

Has the health and safety of factory workers in Bangladesh’s garment industry improved since a factory building collapsed in 2013, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring a further 2,500?

Not quite, according to research from SFU Master of Public Policy student Kirk Hepburn, who graduates on June 8.

The collapse spurred European brands and trade unions to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The five-year agreement details six components for restoring credibility to the country’s regulatory environment while also creating a safer ready-made garment industry for workers.

After analyzing inspection reports and conducting interviews, Hepburn found—at the four-year mark—that while most electrical and fire issues have been corrected, factories are lagging behind significantly on structural issues, which were blamed for the 2013 collapse. 

“Any time you’re dealing with structural issues, remediation isn’t cheap,” says Hepburn, who is an international student from Utah.

“They’re complex and time consuming. The lack of clarity over who’s going to pay or how payment will take place has been a major source of delay.”

As a result, the factories will not meet the accord deadline. Hepburn recommends extending the accord at least four more years to ensure remediation takes place before returning regulation to the local government.

Hepburn conducted the research for his master’s capstone thesis project in SFU’s School of Public Policy. The school’s two-year, full-time, cohort-based master’s program readies graduates to undertake and manage public policy analysis and planning.

Recognizing the importance of practical skill development and degree-relevant experience, the program incorporates a unique, four-month co-op component during the summer between the first and second years. It’s also a means of encouraging students to network with organizations and individuals in various policy sectors.

Hepburn completed his co-op placement with SFU’s Department of Institutional Research and Planning, where he analyzed results of the National Survey of Student Engagement for the university.

“Frankly, as an international student, it’s not easy finding work in government and public policy,” says Hepburn. “I received a lot of support from my senior supervisor, John Richards, faculty, staff and my co-op supervisor.

“On the heels of my thesis project and a summer co-op placement, I’m ready to claim I am prepared for the workforce.”