Nearly 3.5 million garment workers in Bangladesh, recently beset by industrial accidents and a staggering loss of life, will get essential support to improve working conditions, strengthen labour inspection and upgrade building and fire safety at their workplaces, thanks to a new programme in partnership with the United Nations.
“The rapid growth in Bangladesh’s garment industry has provided vital jobs to women and men and is helping to pull them and their families out of poverty. However, there is an urgent need for decisive and collaborative action to make decent work a reality,” stated Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO).
“This programme will improve conditions of work, especially safety, and help generate sustainable economic growth and investment,” he added in a news release.
The new multi-year programme, carried out in partnership with the Governments of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Canada, will boost the efforts already underway by Bangladesh and its partners in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector.
The RMG sector is vital to the economy of Bangladesh, which exported goods worth $19.3 billion for the 11 months that ended in May 2013 – nearly 12 per cent more than a year earlier.
Among other things, the programme will focus on supporting the Bangladeshi National Action Plan for Fire and Building Safety, developed in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse this April. The Plan calls for an assessment of all active export-oriented, RMG factories in Bangladesh to be completed by 31 December 2013.
The Plan is supported by other parallel initiatives focused on the RMG sector in Bangladesh, namely the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh – signed by over 80 leading clothing brands and retailers – and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a binding five-year initiative undertaken by North American apparel companies and retailers to improve safety in more than 500 factories.
The Netherlands, as the current co-chair of the donor coordination group in Bangladesh, strongly supports the adherence to international labour standards on workplace safety and protection of worker’s rights.
“Never in the history of the garment sector have we seen such an opportunity for improvement of labour conditions. With the signing of this agreement, the Netherlands with the ILO and our fellow donors will empower millions of workers in Bangladesh to live healthy and decent lives,” said the country’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen.
ILO noted that during the past year, the RMG industry in Bangladesh has been rocked by several major industrial accidents leading to large-scale worker protests calling for improved building and fire safety, better working conditions and higher minimum wages. These actions have resulted in work disruptions in hundreds of factories.
“The Bangladeshi authorities are responding to these concerns and supporting the programme, which will start with a complete fire safety and structural assessment of all active RMG factories and, where necessary, initiate remedial action,” said the agency.
The programme also has the support of Bangladeshi employers’ organizations and unions. The Government for its part is moving to significantly improve the capacity of its inspection system by equipping and training current and new factory inspectors and introducing oversight to address integrity and increase transparency.
Additionally, the programme will train workers, supervisors and managers in the RMG sector to improve their capacity to ensure workplace safety including the prevention of violence.