The paper analyses three major initiatives implemented in Bangladesh garment industry since 2013. As a result of these initiatives, the status of labour rights and safety at work has been improved significantly. However, the paper locates some shortcomings towards a safe and sustainable garment industry in Bangladesh, which should be addressed properly.
The garment industry of Bangladesh has very significant contributions to the country’s development process in terms of foreign earnings, employment opportunities, women empowerment and bringing social change. According to Shoron and Huq (2014, p. 33), the contribution of Bangladesh ready-made garment industry in the world apparel sector is also very significant, currently it has become 2nd largest exporters of garment products in the world. More than 4 million workers invest their labors in the sector. In align with this positive achievements, the sector is facing some challenges such as maintaining social standards of business, safety at works, promoting labor rights.
Bangladesh is the hub of world garments industry and workers are the main driving force of the sector. Workers invest their valuable time, labour and country’s GDP grown up significantly. So, ensuring their rights is directly related to the future of the sector. They need to be properly motivated towards the brightest future of the sector. Factors that influence motivation may include the reward scheme, owners-workers relationship. Considering the current status of the sector, the paper consider that improving working condition, ensuring basic worker rights will foster equality for the workers. Consequently, workers will be motivated to achieve the target of the sector. Additionally, following social compliance will upgrade the competitiveness of the sector.
Rana Plaza incident has offered a great opportunity to revisit the current status of the workers and it can be said that the incident has increased awareness among various stakeholders of the sector including Bangladesh government, foreign buyers, and factory owners to improve the working condition and ensure workplace safety for the workers (Uddin, 2014). Accordingly, the government as well as other stakeholders are united and committed to the goal of a safe and sustainable RMG sector in Bangladesh. The article examines the recent development in the sector in terms of worker rights, worker safety in align with the concept of capability proposed by noble laureate economist Amartya Sen.
Sen proposed capability approach to judge individual advantages. Capability approach can be used to judge individual well -being and social situation (Sen, 1980, 2002). Here we can speculate that workers consent whether they are convinced that their benefit is fair against their labour invest in the organization (Alamgir, 2015). As the workers acceptance indicate to the apparent relationship between workers and organization, that can be seen as an indication of balance and equitable relationship between them. Main elements of capability include income, opportunity of residence, access to health facilities, opportunities for getting education for the individuals and their children’s.
From the above description, this paper considers the following materials to assess the status of the Bangladesh garment workers.
1) Health and Safety
2) Worker rights
3) Remuneration and basic entitlements contributing personal and social life
Safe working environment is a basic right for the workers. A society that seeks for social justice has to ensure decent workplace, not undermine self-respect and social standing (Shoron & Haq, 2014). A decent and standard working environment provides opportunity to perform efficiently and increase productivity. In addition to, safe working environment is vital for maintaining good health and free from work related injury. Illness and injury lead to expand more money for health purpose that limits individual access to other basic needs.
|Table 1: Status of defaulted factories in safety audit programs. (Ref: Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, 2015)|
|Review Panel Actions
|Referred to Review Panel||22||10||45||21||31||17||98||48|
|Allowed operation after rectification||10||4||11||6||18||10||39||20|
Health is a major concern of any dialogue related to equity and social justice. Sen (2002) described various ways that convinced the position of health as an inescapable element of social justice. Firstly health is among the most important conditions of human life and a critically significant constituent of human capabilities which we have reason to value. Secondly, procedural fairness is also very important to justify justice. In this sense, Sen considered health not only from capability perspective but also procedural effort to establish adequate health facilities. Moreover, OHS is an important part of safety culture within the organization.
Increasing wages is considered first way to address workers right. Standard salary is very important for leading a standard life. When salary of workers cannot support their basic needs, workers become frustrated. These frustrations generate anger and hampers healthy relation between workers and the industry. As a result, various threatening incident happens. For example, salary is the most important factors that lead labour unrest in Bangladesh garment industry. So, there is a direct relationship between standard salary and maintain justice and fair relation between workers and industry.
Three major initiatives in Bangladesh garment industry since 2013:
Bangladesh government adopted National Tripartite Action Plan with the help of ILO for building and fire safety (NTAB) in conducting building assessment (structural integrity, fire and electrical safety) with a target of covering 1500 factories. Bangladesh government has also amended the country’s Labour Law of 2006 in 2015.
Foreign buyers launched two major initiatives called ‘Accord’ and ‘Alliance’ in 2013. More than 200 retailers of European, American & Asian buyers signed Accord on Fire and Building Safety in May 2013. The main objective of the program is to establish a sustainable and safe garment industry in Bangladesh where “no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures” (The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety [ACCORD], 2016). On the other hand, to upgrade workers safety, major North American buyers united and signed ‘The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety’. Both Accord and Alliance have five year plan to implement their target.
Recent developments in safer working environment:
Since 2013, three authorities (Bangladesh government, Accord, Alliance) have started inspection the factories to identify major gaps to ensure a safe working environment. So far, they have completed their first stage inspection programs.
“In total three initiatives inspected 3,780 factories of which 1,549 were assessed through the national initiative. A total of 39 factories have been closed for posing an immediate danger to workers” (ILO, 2016). The inspections have identified major safety hazards in the factories. For example, Accord has identified ‘‘unsafe means of egress, unsafe electrical installations and weak structures’’ as most common problem in the inspected factories (Accord Quarterly Report, 2015). As the inspection programs have completed successfully, many factories have referred to review panel for the final decision. The table 1 shows the status of refereed factories in the review panel.
Table 1 shows that 32 factories and 14 buildings were closed due to hazardous condition. On the other hand, as part of the Accord remediation process, 63% of identified problems have been fixed. Similarly, Alliance has been completed 55% of its remediation programs (Alliance progress report, 2016). So, the workers safety is on highest priority to the government, factory owners and foreign buyers. As a result of these initiatives, working condition has been significantly improved.
Promoting workers’ rights:
The new amended labour law incorporates provisions including forming trade unions without informing owners, safeguarding safety measures for employees in their workplaces. Provision of safety committees and the establishment of workplace health centres are also included in the law. Inspection is an integral part of the law. According to the law, inspectors can enter any factory to measure compliance with the law, and can apply penalties for breaches of the law (Amended Labour Law 2013).
Amendment of labour Act, 2006 has dramatically changed the situation of trade union registration in the RMG sector. Just after immediate of the amendment, at least 96 new trade unions were registered under the Bangladesh Department of Labour (ILO, 2014). According to Sharif (2015), “Till 20 April 2015 more than 300 new trade unions have been registered in the RMG sector”. In addition to this, many initiatives have been taken to promote workers’ rights. For example:
- Accord arranged training for safety committees. Alliance has completed safety committees’ training in 34 factories.
- Alliance claimed to finish 1.2 million workers training to empower workers and bringing positive change.
- Accord has developed a safety and health complaint system, where workers can complaint about the safety issues that are not properly addressed by the management. In addition, workers preserve the right to refuse unsafe work.
- Likewise to Accord, Alliance also installed 24-hour workers helpline in 770 factories to report safety concern anonymously. The helpline called Amader Kotha or Our voice receives an average 1700 call per month (Alliance Second Annual Report, 2015).
Remuneration and compensation:
The government of Bangladesh has taken a strong role to increase the salary of the RMG workers. Since 01 December 2013, Government increases of 77% wages for the garment workers. Currently, garment workers get at least 5300BDT per month which is equal to US$68 (Sharif). Supporting affected workers by different accidents including Rana Plaza is very important. Compensation can be monetary benefit for loss of income and health, or temporary relocation of the job. Compensation is also important where a factory is closed temporary or permanently. According to Accord, They compensated more than 7000 workers for closing the hazardous factories. To support the victims of Rana Plaza incident “Rana Plaza Trust Fund” has formed. To support the victims, it requires US 40 million. To the date, $19.4 million has been donated by various organizations including foreign buyers (khan, 2015).
The paper examines recent development in the Bangladesh garment industry in terms of workers safety, rights. The paper argues that a fair and balanced relationship between workers benefit and their labour should be maintained. To analyse the relationship, it selected some areas like workers’ rights, safety at work, remuneration and health. The paper finds that the garment industry has done significant improvement in all categories since 2013. Significant efforts have been taken to ensure workers safety at work, the situation of workers’ rights has improved, and salary of the workers has increased. However, some shortcomings are also located in the paper that needs to be addressed properly:
- The minimum wage of the workers should be increased further and buyers should come forward to implement the increased salaries. It is required to afford basic entitlement including food, housing, healthcare, education, and clothing.
- Internal healthcare system should be strengthening. Safety committees need to be effective
- Many buyers did not contribute to Rana Plaza trust fund, but they should do it.
- Long-term target oriented program should be adopted to continue the current development.
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