ILO calls for far-reaching measures for garment sector
Poor conditions still remain a challenge for many factories particularly in the garment sector in Bangladesh despite some recent concrete actions taken to address health and safety issues, according to the International Labour Organisation.
“Improving working conditions in Bangladesh's readymade garment industry is crucial for achieving sustainable growth in the country," the UN agency said in a new report.
The report—Bangladesh: seeking better employment conditions for better socioeconomic outcomes—was published on Monday and prepared by the ILO Research Department in consultation with the UN agency's tripartite constituents in Bangladesh.
The report warned that unless a comprehensive set of labour market and social policies are introduced, Bangladesh will be unable to maintain its economic momentum and improve living standards in a sustainable way.
"And while the RMG sector is central to the economy, new measures need to be far-reaching."
The report said the economic growth in the last two decades in the country has created jobs, including in export-related industries, but with harsh working conditions and low pay.
Recent accidents have brought the issue of occupational health and safety risks in the garment sector to world attention, including a factory fire in November 2012 that killed 117 workers and the Rana Plaza collapse in April this year that killed over 1,000 workers – the latter being one of the worst industrial disasters on record.
"In response to a surge in the demand for readymade garments from foreign companies, suppliers in Bangladesh have established factories and manufacturing sites without following building and safety codes, and the government of Bangladesh has not provided adequate regulatory oversight and enforcement," the report said.
"Although the government has taken some concrete action in the past six months to address health and safety issues, poor conditions remain a challenge in many factories across the country, especially those in the garment sector."
Bangladesh experienced relatively high economic growth over the past two decades, mainly due to garment exports, which have become the main pillar of the economy.
The country accounted for 4.8 percent of global apparel exports in 2011, compared with only 0.6 percent in 1990. Over the same period, total exports as a share of GDP increased from around 5 percent in 1990 to over 23 percent in 2011, according to ILO.
"But unregulated industry growth has contributed to poor working conditions in that sector, which have acted as an obstacle to sustainable development and, moreover, resulted in some of the worst industrial disasters on record."
The report pointed out garment workers earn some of the lowest wages in the region.
The monthly minimum wage for entry-level workers in the garment sector was $39 per month—about half of the lowest rate in other major garment-exporting countries, such as Cambodia ($80), India ($71), Pakistan ($79), Sri Lanka ($73) and Vietnam ($78).
Bangladesh decided to hike minimum worker salary by 77 percent to Tk 5,300 to be effective from December 1.
The report said improving employment prospects and working conditions—notably in the RMG sector—will help to safeguard exports, which have been a key driver of growth and employment creation, especially for women.