The Workers’ Voice Report 2019 is the result of a cooperation project between the Awaj Foundation and Consulting Service International Ltd. (CSI)
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment ex-porter. The readymade garment (RMG) industry has been the main driver of economic growth for decades. Despite improvements in the past, safety, health and labour conditions still put the workers’ lives at risk. This report intends to shed light on the working condi-tions from a gender perspective and analyse the socio-economic factors that sustain gender inequality.
Bangladesh’s garment industry has attracted and re-tained women in employment, which is mostly narrated as a story of female empowerment. The re-sults from this study, however, suggest that female garment workers are far away from gender equality.
Women make up 77% of the respondents, with the percentage dropping drastically when it comes to more qualified positions, such as quality control, qual-ity inspection or ironing1. Female interviewees held 68% of operator and assistant positions in their com-panies as opposed to 13% of the male respondents, a percentage that is far from parity.
Female workers appear to be more burdened by the responsibilities they are facing at work and at home. Not only do more female interviewees have children, they also have more children than the male respond-ents. Working parents can rarely count on a supporting structure (e.g. childcare, crèche) in their factories, which is why most of the respondents are wary of reconciling family life and work. Especially men are reluctant to have more children under the current circumstances; their averseness allows for the inference that they feel their societal role as breadwin-ners is at risk.
The Working Conditions in Bangladesh’s RMG Industry after Rana Plaza
The Workers’ Voice Report 2016 represents the collaboration of two organisations sharing a common vision of pushing Bangladesh’s Ready Made Garment (RMG) industry towards more sustainability. Awaj Foundation, a local NGO dedicated to fighting for labour rights, and Consulting Service International (CSI) Ltd., a Hong Kong based consultancy with long-term experience in advising international brands and retailers on introducing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in their supply chain, are pleased to present the third edition of the Workers’ Voice Report.
After the previous reports, reactions from other organisations encouraged us to initiate a long-term project that seeks to determine trends within the RMG sector and the direction it is heading to. Progress and changes relating to Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), working hours, education or exposure to abusive behaviour in the RMG industry, amongst other indicators, will be analysed over the course of the time.
The main objective of the Workers’ Voice Report 2016 is to raise awareness of the working conditions in Bangladesh’s RMG industry. After the disastrous collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013, it is all the more important to take stock of the latest developments and see the industry through the lens of the workers, giving them a voice.
More than a thousand workers were interviewed between November 2015 and March 2016 by the staff of Awaj Foundation. Selected indicators provide insight into the living and working conditions of the garment workers interviewed. Workers’ Voice is meant to counter the continuously soaring export earnings of a thriving economic sector with the workers’ perceptions of their industry, their aspirations and their motivation to continue enduring often unacceptable working conditions.
Update on Implementation of the New Wage Structure in Bangladesh’s RMG Industry
The Rana Plaza building collapse on April 24, 2013 drew the world’s attention to the RMG industry in Bangladesh. Global media outlets, international stakeholders and human rights groups, but also worker rights and human rights groups inside Bangladesh, increased their pressure, demanding change and improvement in the country’s largest industry.
One of the consequences of the disaster and the subsequent increase of tension and unrest was the government’s decision to increase the legal minimum wage for RMG workers, which had not been adjusted since 2010, despite strong increases of basic living costs and high inflation rates.
On December 5, 2013, the government of Bangladesh issued the “Gazette on Minimum Wages 2013”, which defines a new wage structure for the RMG industry with an increase of gross monthly minimum wage from BDT 3,000 to BDT 5,300 (77%). The new wage structure was put into effect legally on January 1, 2014.
Concerns remain, however, in regard to the implementation of the new wage structure in Bangladesh’s RMG industry. Stakeholders, human rights and worker rights groups claim that the RMG sector has so far not succeeded in fully implementing the new wage structure. Statements in regard to the share of factories that have implemented the new wage structure vary from 87% (according to employer organization BGMEA) and 40% (according to local trade unions).
Insight into Life and Livelihood of Bangladesh’s RMG Workers
The first Workers’ Voice report is the direct result of a large-scale survey based on individual face-to-face interviews with over 1,200 Bangladeshi garment workers from more than 250 different factories. The interviews were conducted between June 2012 and April 2013 by the staff of AWAJ Foundation.
This survey is unique, both because of its size in respect to participants as well as its scope in regard to subject matter. In contrast to many other research projects in this field, Workers’ Voice does not limit itself to a specific aspect but takes a comprehensive approach. It attempts to establish a kaleidoscopic insight into the life of garment workers, those who are the pulse of this important and thriving industry. Workers’ Voice recognizes the worker as a human being and not merely as a necessary element of the RMG production process. Therefore, much space was provided within the survey to capture the workers’ perceptions, feelings, plans and aspirations.
Workers’ Voice represents the collaboration of three different organizations connected by their commitment to facilitate the development of a just and sustainable RMG industry in Bangladesh. Workers’ Voice is a true multi-stakeholder endeavour comprising a Bangladeshi NGO dedicated to the fight for workers’ rights, a local think-tank and watchdog of Bangladesh’s labour issues, and a Hong Kong based CSR consultancy with many years of experience in the global apparel business.
Living Wages in the RMG Sector
With Bangladesh' garment industry earning 80% of the country's total imports, the living wage of this industry's workers has been the focal point of an ongoing and heated debate. The many clashes that have occurred between angry workers and factory owners from 2006 until present, reiterate the fact that the new minimum wage set at BDT 3,000 per month still does not allow for a minimum standard life. In the RMG sector there are many different opinions about what the minimum living wage should be, while none are universally accepted. Therefore, this report investigates whether Bangladesh' present minimum wage is sufficient for garment workers to lead a minimum standard life. The actual amount will vary across the country, from place to place, as a living wage considers what is sufficient to fulfil the minimum basic demands of life.
In doing so, four different calculations were applied to five different areas in Bangladesh in order to calculate the living wage, including the internationally accepted Social Accountability International (SAI) standard. Additionally, basic costs such as food-, home rent-, medical-, minimum-, education- and other necessary expenses were taken into account, through survey questionnaires. Based on these four calculation methods, quite a large variation was identified in the appropriate living wages in the different areas. The lowest figure was identified in the Rangpur area where a living wage of BDT 4,433 is necessary. This is approximately 45% lower than that of Dhaka, where the highest living wage of BDT 8,114 was identified. The second highest living wage levels calculated are in Chittagong, while greater Dhaka (Narayanganj) had the lowest assessed living wage level.
An Analysis of 1000 Interviews with Workers in Bangladesh
Production practices in Bangladesh and therefore also European textile companies are constantly facing public criticism. Working conditions within the supply chain are criticised. Arguments range from underpayment, child labour and discrimination to poor living and working conditions.
Over the last couple of years, Bangladesh has developed as a major site of the world's textile production. Agriculture and the ever-growing textile industry have begun to form the core employment sectors. However, Bangladesh is still one of the poorest developing countries in the world. According to the United Nation's Human Development Report 2010, Bangladesh is ranked 129th out of 169 countries worldwide. Every year, thousands of rural residents move into the area of the mega-city of Dhaka. Dhaka is already home to around 13 million people and according to United Nations projections, the city will have almost 17 million inhabitants in 2015. The increasing formation of slums is only one consequence. Approximately 40 percent of the city's population lives in slums. But the prospect of work continues to attract rural workers.
But how do the workers view their own situation? And what problems and needs do they express? Many of the claims and arguments in the dispute between stakeholders, media, NGOs and business are based on western values and a western world view. What is really important to the people in Bangladesh? And how do they really live in Dhaka? To obtain answers to those questions is not easy. Many adults, especially women, are illiterate. Official information can be obtained from few and not often credible sources.