Ensuring Safety of Garments Workers in Bangladesh
No one can imagine the economic development of Bangladesh without considering the contribution of the garment sector. This sector has emerged as the single largest export sector in Bangladesh with 78.14 percent share in total national export in FY 2010-11 (iART 2011). It comprises of 16 percent GDP that has created scope for the employment opportunity of 10.72 percent labor force of which 6.83 percent are directly involved (Ahmed, 2013). Apparel sector is known as only one among the manufacturing sectors in Bangladesh where women workers account for about 70% of its total employment. It is well recognized that this sector is playing a vital role in empowering women economically and socially.
Despite the fact that this industry is creating opportunity for women and semi-skilled or unskilled manpower, workers are not getting proper working environment in compliance to international standard. General perception is that women having no alternative job opportunities usually join garment industry. Thus, due to having financial crisis, low price of labour, limited capacity to bargain with male managers and their low confidence, women are being exploited severely. There is a common allegation from the workers’ perspective that a good number of garment factories do not provide good working environment that ensure physical and human/social security. It is commonly alleged that workers spend around 12 hours a day in the work place of the garment industries. Apart from regular work, they have to spend almost 24 hours in a week as overtime at night. If we analyze this sector from the gender perspective it is revealed that female garment workers rarely find a healthy and supportive environment in the workplace (Hossain2012; Jahan, 2011, Paul-Majumder, 2008).
Garments workers are not well paid by which they can support their relatives staying in their home town after maintaining their daily needs. As an obvious consequence, most of the garment workers live in slums in an unhealthy situation. This is not the end of the story, since 1990 to 2013 (April) Bangladesh has experienced more than 10 deadly occurrences that caused untimely death of thousands of workers where most of the affected were women. Last two incidences are: Tazreen Fashions tragedy, the worst industrial fire in the history of Bangladesh, that killed at least 111 people on 24 November (The Guardian, 10 January, 2013) and Rana Plaza collapse tragedy that took away more than 525 lives of garment workers (till 3rd May 2013) (The Time Magazine, 2 May, 2013, Prothom Alo, 4th May, 2013). Experts and insiders of this sector have identified obsolete policies and laws, and non-compliance with laws as main causes of this kind of occurrences. In this backdrop an attempt to address the policy and its compliance in the garment sector of Bangladesh deserves special attention.