Spotlight on Responsible Garment and Textile Production in Bangladesh

This multi-stakeholder partnership highlights the complexities of ethical issues in the textile and garment industry and how these can be addressed through social dialogue. The initiative demonstrates how scalable, sustainable solutions created through a multi-stakeholder collaboration effort can be developed for the benefit of thousands of textile workers in the RMG industry.

Factual Outline

Partnership for change: The joint Ethical Trading Initiatives (the UK, Norway, and Denmark), 3F, and the Confederation of Danish Enterprise (Dansk Erhverv).The partnership is supported by Danida.

Purpose: The goal of the project is to strengthen workers’ rights and improve industrial relations between factory workers and factory management in the ready-made garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh.

Method: Develop a scalable model for workplace social dialogue, which includes capacity building and rights-based training of factory workers and factory management across ten pilot factories.

Target group: 15,500 textile workers will benefit from the social dialogue programme.

Location: Garment and textile factories in and around Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Time frame: The project will last four years, 2013–2017.

Importance: The textile industry accounts for 80% of Bangladesh’s total export value.

The RMG industry is the backbone of Bangladesh’s economy. It employs approximately 4 million people, of whom the majority are women, and accounts for close to 80% of the country’s total exports. However, behind the financial statistics lies a darker reality, which involves poor working conditions and rights violations for the thousands of men and women employed in the industry.

In 2013, the garment and textile industry in Bangladesh caught the world’s attention following the tragic collapse of Rana Plaza factory and the Tazreen factory fire, which killed 1,150 factory workers. These tragedies provided a catalyst for change on an unprecedented scale in critical fire and safety issues as well as in critical labour rights issues. In general, workers in the Bangladeshi RMG industry are unaware of their rights and are not organised in any way that would allow them to speak collectively to alert supervisors or managers to their problems and concerns.

The issues are compounded because the women that work in the sector often have limited formal education and come from rural environments, which makes them particularly vulnerable. Consequently, these problems are reinforced by poor industrial-relations practice and a lack of confident workers who are able to identify and solve problems with management in a constructive way. The Ethical Trading Initiatives of Denmark, Norway, and the UK (joint ETIs) are currently addressing the absence of social dialogue.

Initiative: Responsible Textile Production

Since 2013, the Joint ETIs have worked together in Bangladesh to develop a scalable and replicable model of social dialogue that will establish structures and processes for workers and employers to negotiate their rights collectively and resolve conflicts peacefully. The need for workers to be heard is of increasing importance for brand members of the Joint ETIs, because they recognise that giving workers the opportunity to be heard is key to achieving fair working conditions, as well as creating stable sourcing markets and sustainable economic growth.

The social dialogue project is supported by Danida and is currently being implemented by the joint Ethical Trading Initiatives, 3F, and the Confederation of Danish Enterprise (Dansk Erhverv).

The project partners are purposefully concentrating their efforts on improving the rights and safety of textile workers, developing environmentally sustainable production, and increasing transparency across the supply chains within the RMG industry. The initiative includes training in industrial relations between managers and workers. The training covers a broad agenda that seeks to establish a basic understanding of human-resource management, human and workers’ rights, labour law, as well as an understanding of ILO conventions.

Results and Lessons

The aim is that, by the end of the project, ten textile factories employing 15,500 textile workers will have established a common understanding of social-dialogue processes, accumulated experience in collective bargaining, and contributed to a greater respect for gender equality within the industry. The project will also have supported the implementation of structures that facilitate greater worker voice and representation, as well as a better handling of grievance mechanisms for the benefit of the textile workers involved in the project. Last but not least, the project will result in the development of a scalable and replicable social-dialogue toolkit, which includes significant lessons and best practice that can contribute to better conditions for thousands of textile workers across the RMG industry, beyond the scope of this project.