A new initiative launched by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and funded by the Government of Sweden is set to enhance workplace rights and industrial relations in the Bangladesh ready-made garment sector.

An agreement to launch the project was signed in New York in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meeting by Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lövin, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, and Secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Labour and Employment Mikail Shipar. The event was witnessed by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali. Sweden will provide funding worth US $5.4 million to the initiative titled ‘Promoting Social Dialogue and Harmonious Industrial Relations in the Bangladesh Ready-Made Garment Industry’ which will run from November 2015 to December 2020.

The project will enhance labour relations through improved dialogue between employers and workers, particularly at workplace level. Conciliation and arbitration mechanisms will be strengthened to become a more effective, trusted system and the capacity of workers and employers enhanced to engage in social dialogue and collective bargaining as well as to make effective use of dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms. Given the large presence of women in the workforce, efforts will be made to fully incorporate their interests.

Making the world’s factories and workplaces safe

Speaking at the signing, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said, “ILO seeks to make the world’s factories and workplaces safe and decent places to work. While much progress has been made in Bangladesh over recent years, this initiative will contribute towards improved working conditions and labour rights in the garment sector, in line with relevant international labour standards.” Secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Labour and Employment Mikail Shipar said, “The Government of Bangladesh is committed to enhancing conditions and rights for all workers. This initiative will make a major contribution towards that goal. Although initially targeting the garment industry, the impact of the project will eventually cover all sectors.”

Meanwhile, Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lövin emphasized the need to support women garment workers. “Sweden is proud to partner with Bangladesh and ILO in this project, especially as it focuses on a sector where 80 per cent of the workers are women and will support women’s economic empowerment while improving their working conditions,” she said. The Promoting Social Dialogue and Harmonious Industrial Relations in Bangladesh Ready-Made Garment Industry project will be implemented by ILO in collaboration with the Department of Labour (DoL) of the Ministry of Labour and Employment. It will work closely with employers and workers organisations, namely the Bangladesh Employers Federation (BEF), Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), National Coordination Council for Workers Education (NCCWE) and IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC). The project will also engage international buyers and trade unions.

The Bangladesh RMG sector has grown rapidly since the 1980s and currently comprises some 3,500 export-oriented factories, which generate over 80 per cent of the nation’s export earnings. The industry currently employs an estimated 4.2 million workers, the majority of whom are women.

Published: 08-10-15