A Look into the Journey of Garment Worker Rights in Bangladesh 2013-14

Authored by Kasheful Hoda

The first anniversary of Rana Plaza, the greatest catastrophe that faced any factory worker in the history of mankind, is just around the corner. As 24th April approach, we look back at a year when the Multi-Billion dollar international fashion industry came face to face with with the hellish sight of its devastated workers.

Rana Plaza was the biggest factory disaster that ever hit Bangladesh, but in no way was it the first. According to some reports [1], since 2005 there have been a total of 1728 deaths within Bangladeshi textile factories which work for brands that fill western high streets. This figure reflects the catastrophes since Spectrum through Tazreen till Rana Plaza, however does not include the fires like that of Tung Hai and Aswad later on.

Since these tragedies, improvements have been promised by the BGMEA, government and buyers. New building codes, better inspection facilities, new amendments to the labor law, a new minimum wage, compensation promises, and an accord from Europe came along with an alliance from USA to save our battered blue collared souls.

This article is an attempt to look into the recent events in Bangladesh’s most important and labor intensive sector – the garment sector, as it can be seen from within Bangladesh and through Bangladeshi eyes.

The Tazreen Tragedy

Tazreen Fashion was one of the biggest national disasters of its time in Bangladesh. The cries of its victims spread across borders and into the outlets of its buyers in the western world. The need for justice, both in terms of compensation, better safety standards and punishment to the factory owner Delwar Hossain have been voiced across Bangladesh and across the globe. The recent and long awaited charge-sheet and subsequent arrest of Mr. Delwar Hossain started a much awaited longing of people around the world to witness justice being served and an example being set.

After a lot of confusion on the exact numbers of dead and injured, RISE along with Clean Cloths Campaign went on a mission to interview and combine the data collected by most NGOs and Social Researchers in Bangladesh to finally come up with the figures of 125 dead with 87 orphans, and 124 seriously injured in need of medical attention. These figures were later submitted to C&A to extend the shorter BGMEA list.

Tazreen Fashion fire occurred in 2012, but its compensation only started in mid 2013 and continues with C&A and Li & Fung leading the way through their chosen implementing body Caritas Bangladesh – a Catholic Christian Missionary organization. Although C&A and Li & Fung had gone ahead without involving trade unions, still this step had been lauded across the world as a step towards their responsibility towards those who stitch their profits together. Apart from C&A and Li & Fung, very little has materialized from others which include: Delta Apparel (USA), Dickies (USA), Disney (USA), Edinburgh Woollen Mill (UK), El Corte Ingles (Spain), Enyce (USA), Karl Rieker (Germany), KiK (Germany), Piazza Italia (Italy), Sears (USA), Teddy Smith (France), and Walmart (USA).

The year 2013 saw the beginning of compensation implementation for Tazreen Victims spearheaded by C&A and Li & Fung. Apart from their due salaries, till now the dependents of the dead victims of Tazreen have received 600000BDT from the government, 100000BDT from the BGMEA, some have received a little more if they met some other organization distributing donations. The Tazreen orphan are receiving 1250TK per month for each child and is given to their legal guardian till they reach 18 years of age, along with 2750TK per month in a savings account for each child. For the injured, C&A pays a one grade up salary for every month since the disaster that the worker could not work due to injuries. On being verified by Caritas, these injured victims get paid in phases (e.g. several months worth of payment given out in one payday).

Workers we talked with expressed their helplessness on the process of payment and verification. Need for the money is great, and they acknowledge the thoughtfulness shown by C&A towards them. They certainly are grateful to Caritas Bangladesh and thus travel with their injured bodies all the way from their far off villages in hot and humid climates just to sign a piece of paper and get verified each time they have to receive a payment. One wonders, and the workers do too, about why the modern mobile banking and bank accounts with swift money transfer facilities are not being used? In fact, such a move could empower workers with a bank account, include the bank as a third party witness for compensation payment and offer a higher level of transparency.

Since Tazreen many other relatively small scale disasters followed, including the 8 deaths in Smart Export fire which also was compensated earlier this year by Inditex, in cooperation with Trade Unions in Bangladesh. Apart from medical treatment to some of the critically injured, the dead were given 1400000BDT each; the injured were given 500000BDT each, while ordinary workers of the factory regardless of their injuries were given a sum of 15000BDT for their inconvenience.

However, for Bangladeshis, all eyes are fixed towards the aftermath of the biggest and most brutal tragedy which suddenly eclipsed every imagination that we had as a nation regarding disasters. A catastrophe struck – named after its owner Mr. Soheil Rana, now behind bars and awaiting a charge-sheet, and the battered workers awaiting compensation.

 

Rana Plaza – A long wait for justice

With at least 1135 deaths, and around 2000 injured victims – many of whom maimed forever, creating several hundreds of orphans, Rana Plaza exposed the fragile state of work place safety and working environment in Bangladesh. Even though the epic tragedy struck millions of hearts across the globe, relief keeps coming too little too slow. The world stood shocked, while their fashion brands shuffled for the best strategy to tackle the “crisis”. Primark led the way with cash relief to victims amounting to a sum of 45000BDT till date (3 equal installments using the mobile banking method “bKash”), other brands are still waiting in promises while many prefer to live in ignorance.

Recently, the government has formed a 31 member committee to oversee the arrangements for disbursing a Prime Ministerial relief fund where unions are not represented. This committee has proposed 1450000BDT for the dead and missing workers and the permanently disabled ones, 750000BDT for those who have lost one limb, 450000BDT for workers needing long-term treatment and 150000BDT for the traumatized survivors, a package which falls short of Article 121 of ILO convention.

Apart from this, a global initiative negotiated between unions, companies and NGOs have set a 40millionUSD (25million GBP) target and named this effort “The Rana Plaza Arrangement” [2]. Although the final funding needed will only be determined as the individual claims will be  processed, it is estimated that the total amount will be close to USD 40million, based on the  provisions of ILO Convention No. 121 and the wage levels expected at time of award. As per ILO convention, in case of death the worker’s family is entitled to 2500000BDT. The permanently disabled workers should receive more than 2500000BDT, the recoverable injured ones 1500000BDT and those with minor injuries 5 to 1000000BDT. The Rana Plaza Arrangement has been signed by buyers, unions, NGOs and politicians alike, with the international Labor Organization (ILO) acting as a neutral chair. Leading buyers Primark, Loblaw, Bonmarche, El Corte Ingles signed the arrangement along with the Bangladesh Ministry of Labor, Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (BEF), Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), IndustriALL Bangladesh National Council, Bangladesh Institute for Labor Studies (BILS), Industriall Global Union and Clean Clothes Campaign.

Among all the wait and promises, the progress is little. According to an ongoing research of RISE in cooperation with Medico International (Germany), till now families of the dead victims have received 20000BDT funeral cost per dead body, between 1 to 300000BDT from the Prime Minister’s relief fund (inconsistent, depending on claims by family members), while 45000BDT has been given in 3 installments by Primark, 10000BDT by Islamia Foundation (an Islamic NGO), and between 5000 to 10000BDT from local government administration.

As for the victims with injuries 45000BDT came from Primark in three equal installments. Few victims received 1000000BDT as a fixed deposit from the government which gives 10000BDT monthly to the victims; however only a handful received this amount and the criteria to be eligible for this support remains unclear. Further 10000BDT cash came from the government for some but not all. 5000BDT was given at the hospitals where treatment was rendered free of cost, a support which has by far been the most consistent till now.

The long wait for support has eaten away many hopes. Long neglected trauma patients are increasingly vulnerable to acts like suicide, just like the 27 year old Rana Plaza survivor Salma did on 24th January this year. With hundreds of victims and their families helplessly clinging on to the last moments of hope, relief seems too little and one can only wonder if they will arrive too late.

However, with the hope that compensation does finally arrive, it will be important to manage such a large scale compensation plan in a transparent and organized manner so that none of the suffering victims are left behind. Thus for the implementation of the compensation scheme, it is important that it remains transparent and above questions. A suggestion may be setting up bank to bank transfer system. The compensating body could remit the amount to a “Mother Account” of those who would implement the compensation scheme. A separate fund should be provided for temporary camps set up in locations from which clusters of victims/families are easily accessible. Teams made up of trade unionists and representatives of the implementing body should help victims/families open bank accounts with their documents, submitting information about the dead relative or their own injuries from the Rana Plaza Tragedy. The implementing body would then transfer money from their “Mother Account” to the account of the victim/family. This action will not only bring greater transparency in the form of a third party witness in the bank, but also empower workers in determining their own finances and taking charge of its accountability, and also help prevent victims from having to travel from their distant homes for verification/documentation. Further, these temporary camps may also accept grievances for any irregularity or inconsistency, and a call center may be set up with a hotline for victims to give their feedback.

Although the above mentioned plan is broad, still it is the best option compared to the mobile banking (bKash) option which already has been used by Primark in its effort to disseminate 45000BDT in three equal installments to the Rana Plaza victims. Although mostly successful, on a survey conducted by RISE on relatives of the dead and injured victims of Rana Plaza found that there were at least some incidents of bKash fraud by agents and/or relatives who went to pick up the amount which needs no real documentation other than mentioning the cell number or reference number from which the bKash amount would come, which eventually resulted in the actual victim receiving less than what she was normally supposed to receive. Handing over the right amount to the right person in mobile banking is not yet as secure as the strong method of bank to bank money transfer.

The Minimum Wage 2013

There were two new minimum wages announced recently, both of which affected the garment export industry in Bangladesh. One was announced for the ready-made garment factories operating under the guidelines of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), and another for factories operating under the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Association (BEPZA). Wages in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are not set via a Minimum Wage Board. Wages in EPZs are determined by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) and are currently slightly higher than the non-EPZ minimum wages. Factories in the EPZ area account for only 5% of garment exports are produced in EPZ areas [3].

Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) administers workers in eight EPZs’ as per a law different from the Bangladesh Labor Law 2006 (amended in 2013). The law for EPZ workers is titled as “The EPZ Workers Welfare Association and Industrial Relations Act, 2010.”

The (BGMEA) Minimum Wage 2013 for Knitwear and Woven Announced on 22November 2013

January and February 2014 were the first two months of the first year after the new Minimum Wage 2013 came into being on 22 November 2013. The 6 member minimum wage board [4] which was chaired by retired district Judge A.K. Roy, Prof Dr. Mohammad Kamal Uddin (neutral member) of the International Business Department of Dhaka University, Mr. Kazi Saifudin Ahmod (permanent member representative of RMG owners), labour adviser of Bangladesh Employers Federation Mr. Fazlul Hoque Mantu (permanent member of workers), executive president of National Sramik League Mr. Arshad Zamal Dipu as workers representative, and Mr. Sirajul Islam Rony as representative of ready-made garment (RMG) workers, passed a minimum wage of 5300BDT for RMG workers compromising on the demand of 8114BDT by workers across the country. After much violence, injury and loss of lives, workers went back to their only chance to survive (their jobs) expecting a wage which would reflect the new minimum wage – however inadequate that maybe.

The new minimum wage came up with approximately 77% increase in wage for the lowest grade worker of a garment factory. However, on a closer look after inflation [5] is adjusted for 3 years after the last minimum wage in 2010 (a sum of 3 years which is approximately 26.70%), we can see how the real picture is still different from whatever is claimed. Moreover, the increase in basic wage is still far from ideal, and if adjusted with inflation (2011, 2012, 2013 FY) then the increase for BGMEA factories are far from significant. The table below should explain the increase,

BGMEA Minimum Wage 2013 (inflation adjusted)

January saw wages in more than 40% [6] of garment factories remain unchanged, a scenario which seem consistent even through February where RISE surveyed 20 randomly selected factories in Dhaka and found 50% of these factories yet to implement the new minimum wage. The reason for this delay towards proper implementation of the minimum wage ranges from political unrests of 2013 to the recent off peak season for garment products in the export market, an explanation unexplainable to the hungry bellies of the average garment worker and her family.

No minimum wage yet for Sweater Factory Workers

Along with their garment worker brothers and sisters, sweater factory workers also made headlines in Dhaka. They demanded Increase in piece-rate (i.e. they earn according to the number of pieces they make) for the sweater garment factory, and introduction of overtime benefits, festival bonuses, leave benefit, increasing basic pay, and fixing wage as per grade wise.

Recently the government informed that it is going to formulate a set of guidelines for the sweater factory workers to resolve the prevailing disputes over payment in piece-rate basis.

There are interesting comments which comes from Mohammed Hatem, the vice-president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, who strongly contends the practicability of sweater factory workers working under a wage board.  He says that the guidelines would be formulated over fixing piece rate but there is no scope to include the demands of workers for increasing basic pay and overtime allowance in the guidelines.

‘When they will work under piece rate they will not be entitled to grade wise basic pay or overtime benefits. We have no objection to pay the sweater factory workers as per grade wise basic and overtime benefits, but they will have to work under the wage board,’ he said [7].

Hatem said that no sweater factory workers are willing to work under wage board as under the piece rate the workers receive higher than the structure of minimum wage board.

Labor leaders have been making allegations for long that the sweater factory workers are deprived of legal service benefits like overtime allowances and festival bonuses.

Approximately 1.6 million [8] workers are engaged in sweater factories under the piece rate basis payment system.

In the first week of January, the labor ministry formed a sub-committee to look into the disputes of the sweater factory workers.

New (BEPZA) Minimum Wage 2013 for EPZ factories announced

Just after the Minimum Wage 2013 for garment factories under the BGMEA, BEPZA announced its own minimum wage 2013 (EPZ) on 24 December 2013. As per expectations and tradition, the EPZ Minimum Wage was higher. However, a straight comparison of EPZ factories with factories outside of EPZ may not always be fair, as garment factories inside the EPZ areas do not have any unionization by law. Moreover, EPZ factories are enjoying 10-year tax holiday and duty free machinery import facilities. Factories inside the EPZ get uninterrupted gas and power supply, which make them more competitive. Moreover, day care facilities for children are provided to every worker from the authorities of EPZ, as well as medical treatment.

Thus to no surprise, EPZ factories show a greater increase in wages compared to the BGMEA factories, even after inflation being adjusted,

Minimum Wage 2013 in EPZ (column with adjusted sum of inflation for 3 FY)

Minimum Wage 2013 in EPZ (column with adjusted sum of inflation for 3 FY)

There has been at least a couple of unrest in the Dhaka EPZ area regarding implementation of the minimum wage. However, implementation is faster in these areas compared to factories outside EPZs.

The Accord and The Alliance

Both the Accord and the Alliance came into being after the Rana Plaza Tragedy (also known as the Savar Tragedy). Although both promise to bring positive changes in the building and fire safety standards of Bangladeshi garment factories, they are not the same, but rather stand facing each other with a clear spirit of rivalry.

The journey of what is known today as the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord (or the “European” Accord, as commonly termed in Bangladesh) started to take shape in February 2010 when the fire at Garib & Garib Sweater Factory consumed 21 lives and left several injured. The fire caused ITGLWF (now a part of Industriall Global Union) come together with Bangladeshi Trade Unions, national and international NGOs, activists and think-tanks to develop a set of proposals known as the “Health and Safety Action Points for Buyers” for better fire and building safety standards in Bangladesh. Later, That’s It Sportswear Factory fire causing 29 deaths prompted the concept of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) being signed by retailers, local and global trade unions and the manufacturers for a program of tasks in which all stake holders could cooperate closely in an attempt create a binding understanding that would help stop any such future tragedies in the garment industry of Bangladesh.

The MoU was contested by most brands, although it had the German brand Tchibo as its signatory. The MoU was now known as the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which later took the form of Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord after the twin disasters of Tazreen and Rana Plaza.

Apart from these international efforts by global stakeholders, the Bangladesh Government created the tripartite National Action Plan (NAP) on January 15th, 2013 in consultation with local Trade Unions and the BGMEA for better safety standards of Bangladeshi Garment Factories which. NAP was a positive incentive for the Accord as it also created space for global stake holders to act in a united effort for safety standards in garment factories of Bangladesh. The new Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord explicitly endorsed the NAP and pledged to dovetail its efforts with the actions being undertaken under the NAP.

Recently the accord gathered 150 signatories [9] including many from the United States. The Accord is already present in Bangladesh with its staff, but inspections of Bangladesh’s garment factories are likely to start by March 2014 and are forecasted to be completed by September, five months later than originally planned.

Due to disagreements among US brands over the Accord, some of them led by GAP and Wal-Mart eventually went on to form another platform naming it “Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety” (or better known in Bangladesh as the American Alliance). Although very similar to the European Accord, the American Alliance is not working in cooperation with Bangladeshi trade unions and not legally binding as the European Accord. 26 Brands, mostly US and Canadian, have joined the Alliance and have already started inspections in Bangladesh, claiming that it focuses on safety issues in a more practicable manner than the European Accord.

The rivalry between the Accord and the Alliance already has created confusion among many Bangladeshis, and is seen by many as an unfortunate impediment to what could have been a united and integrated effort to much needed safety into the garment industry in Bangladesh. Recently the General Secretary of Industriall Global Union, a global trade union representing 50 million workers from 140 countries which spearheaded the European Accord, informed in a press conference that Industriall would conduct a big public campaign to show how unserious the American Alliance is [10]

The European Accord is set to inspect around than 1600 factories and the American Alliance is inspecting around 700 factories, while there are approximately 6000 Garment Factories in Bangladesh with more than 4.5 million workers most of them being female. There are 350 factories which are common to the Accord and the Alliance. [11]

Accord vs. Alliance

As the purpose of both the Accord and the Alliance appear to be similar, it is always interesting to try and look into the differences of both these initiatives. The table below makes an effort to look into the major differences between the European Accord and the American Alliance,

Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety Vs. Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord

Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety Vs. Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord

Practical Scenario on Ground

Performance of the Accord and the Alliance

The problems surrounding Bangladesh building and safety compliance are so great that a united effort was necessary. The unfortunate rivalry between the European Accord and the American Alliance certainly does not help.

Neither the Accord nor the Alliance covers all the factories in Bangladesh, but rather just about 2000 factories together and between them. As RISE have recently discovered in its own small investigation, not every factory manufacturing products for signatories of either of the two platforms have been named in either the accord or the alliance list. It is also very logical that in a country with about 6000 Garment Factories, the biggest brands and those who source most from Bangladesh definitely has their products being stitched in more than just one third of the factories of the country. This raises an obvious question about avoiding another Rana Plaza or Tazreen in Bangladesh through these platforms.

Another great fear among Bangladeshis benefitting from the economic growth of Bangladesh largely due to the garment sector as well as the workers is the possibility of hundreds of factories getting closed due to compliance issues and high costs to meet them, and as a result creating joblessness which in itself is a disaster which might bring back the days of hunger for some which is a lot more painful than the threat of an instant death.

Alan Roberts, Bangladesh Accord’s operations director said that he hoped for only a few factories being closed as a result of the Accord, that in a country where the culture of implementation of government safety standards and building codes is far from ideal. He further went on the say that the kinds of fixes demanded by the Accord are very expensive, and how they will be paid for is still up in the air as the greatest challenge. [17]

Recently representatives of the European Accord, American Alliance, and industry and government representatives met but failed to agree on common inspection standards. In the ongoing meetings concerns have been pointed out by the BGMEA and Bangladeshi government about the realistic nature of the Accord and the Alliance, their differences, and how foreign inspectors would understand the context of the factories and its location i.e. Bangladesh. The BGMEA also has taken a stance against inspection standards set by both the platforms of foreign retailers and brands, saying many of their clauses are not in the national building code and too strict for small and medium garment factories in Bangladesh; it further urged the government to re-fix the standards in line with the national building code so that every factory can meet the standards.

Among some of the arguments put forth by BGMEA representatives, there are examples where inspectors representing a platform expressed their recommendation to some factories to use very thick electrical coils, but no company in this country produces such coils. The inspection agencies also want fire sprinkler system in the factories and this is not stated in the Bangladesh National Building Code (BNBC). The fire sprinkler system is a protection measure used worldwide. [18]

However, after BGMEA’s strong reservation about the inspection standards of the Accord, particularly about the hiring of foreign inspectors, the European Accord decided to hire 25 Bangladeshi engineers along with international inspectors for evaluating garment factories for structural soundness and fire safety in an effort to add local knowledge into the inspections.

Also, the European Accord, American Alliance and the Bangladeshi Government are looking forward to come to an agreement over a standard inspection procedure which would help clear any confusion.

At this early stage it may as well be said that with the best intentions in perspective, the European Accord seeks to include greater accountability and thus place the primary responsibility on western retailers while the American Alliance wants less involvement for the retailers while looking for a bigger role from Bangladeshi government and Bangladeshi factory owners.

Success with Trade Unions?

After the amendments of 2013 to the Bangladesh Labor Law 2006, there has been sharp increase in new unions registering within the ready-made garment (RMG) sector. Till now 100 new unions in garment factories were registered with the Bangladesh Department of Labor (DoL). Presently, 222 unions [19] in the RMG sector are registered with DoL in Bangladesh.

In a recent press conference the General Secretary of Industriall Global Union announced that another 100 factories will have unions in 2014. Currently over 40000 workers are registered in Unions in Bangladesh, although the concept of unions are still weak among those who sign up.

Trade Unions in Bangladesh generally occur without the consent or even knowledge of the factory owner, thus ceasing the possibility of collective bargain. Lack of skills, understanding, organizing capability and facility ends up in registered unions become inactive and remain only on paper. Thus it may also be an area that should be noticed rather than only increasing the number of unions.

Struggling Social Conditions

Recent media coverage on social conditions within some garment factories in Bangladesh has reopened the issue of how fast working conditions are improving, and what is the current overall status of conditions inside factories.

RISE’s observation says that social conditions within factories have generally improved in Bangladesh relatively in the last couple of years. Although child labor has been checked to a great extent in the Bangladesh Garment Industry, it is nonetheless still present, but in small and non-compliant factories located in downtown areas of the city.

In a recent survey of more than 80 Garment Factories across Dhaka, Gazipur, Mirpur, Savar, Ashulia, Rampura, Chittagong, RISE found extensive and systematic verbal abuse in almost 85% of the factories. Workers mention that calling bad names, insulting with obscene language, screaming and shouting is part of their daily routine while working in a garment factory.

One good thing is that physical abuse against workers is becoming increasingly rare, just like sexual abuse. Although not completely removed from the work environment of the entire industry, 75% of all factories surveyed said that they did not receive any form of systematic physical abuse as punishment, while workers in all factories confirmed that they did not receive any form of sexual abuse. It also must be noted that according to the prevalent culture of Bangladesh, female workers avoid acknowledging cases of sexual abuse fearing further discrimination from society.

Irregular maternity leaves and violation of the Bangladesh Labor Law 2006 (amendment 2013) is nothing new in Bangladesh. Although, more factories are practicing the culture of giving proper maternity leaves to their female workers, they must be employed for at least a year before they can avail this benefit (according to labor law, it should be 6 months). The maternity leaves are paid, however the prevalent practice is to allow 2 months paid pre-delivery leave to the worker, and another 2 months paid post-delivery paid leave,  although 70% of the workers we interviewed informed that there is a high prevalence of not getting paid for the remaining 2 months (after birth of the baby) if the worker does not take her previous position back in the factory.

Other scenarios for some factory owners include: giving a pregnant worker a job which she is not supposed to do (not within her expertise/skill), giving her a job at a higher floor, or creating such a scenario where she leaves the job by herself.

Few (decreasing numbers) of factories still cheat the workers on their maternity benefits by not giving them their deserved 4 months, but rather 2 or 3 months of maternity leave with pay.

Below is a table describing the law for Maternal leave in Bangladesh, applicable for garment workers:

Maternity Benefit in Bangladesh Labor Law

Maternity Benefit in Bangladesh Labor Law

Medical facilities struggle in most factories, while long working hours go unaccounted for. Workers are often found complaining about overtime payment irregularities, which for them make up to a huge chunk of their overall income.

As per the Bangladesh Labor Law 2006 (amendment 2013) the maximum overtime limit is 2 hours, making 60hours/week the legal weekly working hours. However, it is a known fact in Bangladesh that workers may spend (depending of order pressure) between 4 to 10 overtime hours in a factory, where due to the law many factories end up keeping the true overtime accounts secretly which opens the doors for vagueness and non-transparent methods to pay overtime wages. The overtime law is rarely seen implemented in Bangladesh. However, a recent gazette published by the government relaxed overtime restrictions on the Garment Owners. The government published (with the following numbers: Reg# D A – 1 No. 40,00,0000,016,32,009,11 (part-1)-320-Bangladesh Labor Law 2006) this in a gazette form and it declared exemption of overtime hours by a further 2 hours and will be applicable from 17-10-2013 to 13-04-2014. This means that workers can now be legally kept working in the factory for 12 hours every workday, making weekly work hours equal 72 hours. Thus, overtime can be 4 hours now for which worker’s do not need to be asked for permission. With this exemption Bangladesh put’s itself well outside both ILO recommendations and most acknowledged Codes of Conduct and labor standards. Such a gazette has been published before solely for the garment sector in Bangladesh, and it usually lasts for 6 months every year. Due to this gazette, most factories can be more transparent about 4 hours of overtime pay to their workers.

In the survey conducted by RISE, it was observed that a positive correlation existed between factory condition and working environment. Factories in good structural and fire safety conditions had better social conditions and working environment inside the factory, while factories which were non-compliant or were manufacturing in vulnerable buildings with none or questionable fire safety arrangement had greater worker abuses or bad social conditions inside their factory buildings.

An unfortunate effect of factories vulnerable to disasters due to their structural or fire safety conditions are felt by those factories which are both structurally sound and maintain a relatively high social standard, as the country brand they share remains the same i.e. “Made in Bangladesh”. It can only be hoped for the numerous compliant and improving factories to take their reputation more seriously, and for the sake of the industry cooperate in attempts to bring forward failing and vulnerable factories and forward to improve conditions or at least save sector by letting them take a safe passage out of this important industry in Bangladesh.

The Issue of GSP still on table

With improvements and promises are sought everyday in Bangladesh and from abroad, US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits is yet to be reopened, which demanded provisions pertaining to labor law reform, protection of labor activists and organizers, and protecting the freedom of association and the rights to organize and bargain collectively before further continuation of the privilege.

Although the GSP does not account for too much of the Garment Export of Bangladesh to the United States, the fear is that it may have a detrimental effect on the European GSP which Bangladesh enjoys. If the European GSP would follow the same route as the US GSP, Bangladeshi Garment Industries forecast bad times as the benefits Bangladeshi garment factories get from the European GSP is far greater and significant compared to the US one. Bangladesh also signed a Sustainability Compact with the EU involving the International Labor Organization to fulfill the 16 conditions. [20]

Recently, in a press conference the Commerce Minister Mr. Tofail Ahmed said that Bangladesh has made substantial progresses in fulfilling 13 of the 16 conditions tagged by the US authorities to win back the US GSP facility. The rest three conditions are about the appointment of 200 inspectors, allowing trade unionism in the export processing zones and looking into allegations of torture on workers in 19 factories. [21]

RISE Society

Authored by: Kasheful Hoda and Tunazzina Iqbal Sahaly


[1] http://www.ed.ac.uk/about/sustainability/fairtrade/news-events/student-features/fair-trade-clothing
[2] http://www.ranaplaza-arrangement.org/
[3] http://www.irinavandersluijs.nl/site/assets/files/1067/living_wage_report_bangladesh.pdf
[4] “The Minimum Wages Board is a department under the Ministry of Labor and employment and works on the people of the country who are working in the certain private owned industrial undertakings and fix the minimum rates of wages of the worker.” – http://www.mole.gov.bd/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=417&Itemid=507
[5] http://www.gdpinflation.com/2013/04/inflation-rate-in-bangladesh-from-1995.html
[6] BGMEA Survey – http://www.thedailystar.net/40pc-garment-units-fail-to-pay-new-wage-8226
[7] http://www.newagebd.com/detail.php?date=2014-01-29&nid=81926#.UwnjXoVjFSw
[8] http://www.newagebd.com/detail.php?date=2014-01-29&nid=81926#.UwnjXoVjFSw
[9] http://www.bangladeshaccord.org/signatories/
[10] http://www.thedailystar.net/business/european-brands-to-hire-25-local-engineers-12550
[11] Staff discussion in Washington, D.C. November 2013
[12] http://www.bangladeshworkersafety.org/about
[13] http://www.bangladeshaccord.org/signatories/
[14] Section 6.2 of the Gap/Walmart Agreement states that the Committee of Experts on fire and building safety will “operate under the oversight of the Board of Directors and the Execut ive Director”, thereby ensuring that the companies maintain control.
[15] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/11/business/global/us-retailers-offer-safety-plan-for-bangladeshi-factories.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0
[16] http://www.cleanclothes.org/resources/recommended-reading/making-global-corporations2019-labor-rights-commitments-legally-enforceable-the-bangladesh-breakthrough
[17] http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304914204579397193214283758?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304914204579397193214283758.html
[18] http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/bgmea-opposes-retailers-plan-11401
[19] http://www.ilo.org/dhaka/Informationresources/Publicinformation/Pressreleases/WCMS_236042/lang–en/index.htm
[20] http://www.thedailystar.net/business/much-progress-in-gsp-efforts-tofail-says-10775
[21] http://www.thedailystar.net/business/much-progress-in-gsp-efforts-tofail-says-10775

EXCHANGE RATE:1 Euro = 106.60BDT (Date: 2/26/2014)

BDT = Bangladeshi Taka (Bangladeshi Currency).

Euro = Common Currency of the European Union.

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Posted in Garment Worker Issues
3 comments on “A Look into the Journey of Garment Worker Rights in Bangladesh 2013-14
  1. […] [4] https://risebd.com/2014/02/25/worker_rights_201314_bangladesh/ […]

  2. […] However, with the fire at Tazreen Fashion and the subsequent catastrophic collapse of Rana Plaza, the Accord came about followed by the Alliance which complemented the NTAP. […]

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