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Bangladesh's Neglected Workforce

In conducting this research project, our aim is to study the issue of inequality among the labour force of Bangladesh’s ready-made garment (RMG) industry. Despite some government efforts towards labour safety reform, working conditions continue to be heavily criticized by human rights reporters. Women, who constitute the majority of the RMG labor force, are especially vulnerable to such hazards. In order to measure inequality, we will assess existing labour policy, work environment, access to healthcare, among others.

Moreover, evidence shows that the current global health crisis has only exacerbated already existing inequalities. Thus, a large portion of the study will focus on investigating the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the RMG sector. More specifically, a comparison will be drawn between pre and post-Covid working conditions while incorporating a gender perspective to the analysis.

Due to the lack of concrete domestic reforms implemented to date, the paper concludes with targeted and constructive policy recommendations geared towards reducing labor inequality, increasing access to healthcare and promoting economic growth. It is our hope that the state and other key stakeholders can look to these proposed recommendations and implement meaningful labor policy reform to improve the livelihood of Bangladesh’s RMG workforce.

About the Project

Garment manufacturing forms a huge part of Bangladesh’s economy. 80 percent of the country’s total export earnings are derived from the readymade garment (RMG) sector. Yet the people behind it remain the most vulnerable in Bangladesh. The industry employs 4.4 million people, the majority of which consists of women labourforce. As the country’s GDP started rising based on the gains from the sector, working conditions of the industry became a topic for criticism. The Rana Plaza incident of 2013 demonstrated the hazardous working conditions in the country. In fact, the working conditions of the labour force in the RMG sector have been under scrutiny for the past decade. “The female workers reported that their work has led to back and joint pain, continuous headache, eye pain and difficulty in breathing associated with inhaling fabric dust. Inadequate lighting, constantly sitting in one position without backrest and continuous noise from hundreds of machines makes them feel permanently tired.”

Moreover, efforts made by the government towards labour safety even after the commitments made post the Plaza incident have been dismal. Though private garment companies came together to reach two landmark agreements on safety i.e.Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

Though ratfies in 2013 by most western companies, to ensure transparency and stable working conditions for workers, the reality has been disappointing. In fact, two years after the Plaza incident Human rights watch revealed cases of physical assault and sexual harassment with women in the sector. Evidently, the need for reform in the labour policy of the RMG sector in Bangladesh is a necessary issue and yet effective change has been elusive. The abovementioned inequality in the sector worsened with the advent of covid-19 in the country. “The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) estimated that pandemic had an immediate impact on 1,150 factories that reported $3.18 billion worth of order cancellations.” Thus directly impacting the 4 million workers in the sector. As economies everywhere came to a halt, the labour force of the RMG sector was pushed down several rungs on the ladder of equality. While the revenue brought by the Garment Industry in Bangladesh is immense the lives of these garment workers are not plagued with problems.

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With this project our team intends on pursuing a qualitative analysis of the rising inequality in the labour force of the RMG sector in Bangladesh. In particular, we aim to look into the impact of Covid-19 in the matter, compare the effects with the pre- Covid working conditions and make recommendations towards labour policy reforms suited for a world with Covid-19. The policy recommendations shall accommodate concerns of working hours, health and safety concerns, essentially reducing the rising inequality in the sector. This project will aim to give its readers an overview of the Bangladesh Ready-made Garment Industry, the conditions of the workers and as well as discuss the future of the garment industry in Bangladesh and the changes required in this industry .

Research Question

  • How has Covid-19 affected the labour force in the garment industry in Bangladesh?

  • Has the pandemic made the employment conditions precarious, if at all?

  • What has the differential impact been on women and children?

  • What have been the health impacts of the pandemic on the people working in the garment industry? Has any extra social security benefits extended to them?

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Center for Regional Research and Sustainability Studies undertakes conceptual, empirical and applied research with a motive to improve understanding of scientific and humanities-oriented issues and challenges. This project falls under CRRSS's Inequalities Mandate. The report is scheduled to launch in August 2021.

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