Investigate sexual violence against RMG workers
In any conversation on Bangladesh's development journey, it is a given that the RMG sector will feature heavily. The empowerment of RMG workers, a majority of whom are women, is routinely cited as an economic success story. However, what is often overlooked are the vulnerable and precarious conditions in which they continue to work to this day.
A recent survey on gender-based violence (GBV) in RMG factories, conducted by nine RMG workers' organisations with support from Solidarity Center, only confirms this. Of the 140 workers who participated, 45 percent had experienced sexual violence and harassment. A proportion of the workers were also subjected to psychological harassment (22 percent), verbal abuse (17 percent), economic exploitation (nine percent), and physical violence (seven percent). The majority of these incidents occurred within factories and were perpetrated by co-workers and supervisors, followed by line chiefs and mid-to-senior-level management officials.
The GBV faced by workers is completely unacceptable and in violation of their rights, but what is equally worrying is the implication that the factory management is complicit in either perpetrating the abuse, or allowing it to continue. A shocking 91 percent of respondents shared that the perpetrators held power over them due to their connections to mid-to-senior-level management, or to local influentials and their associates. Half of the workers surveyed said they faced wage deductions or were made to work extra hours without overtime pay by their supervisors or factory management if they did not agree to their sexual advances. Another 48 percent reported a change in their production targets if they filed complaints with the authorities.
A shocking 91 percent of respondents shared that the perpetrators held power over them due to their connections to mid-to-senior-level management, or to local influentials and their associates.
This cannot be called anything but exploitation, and needs to be treated as such. In the study, a number of recommendations were provided for the government, employers, trade unions and federations to fight GBV. However, recommendations cannot be put into place if the authorities refuse to even accept it as a serious issue. In 2019, ActionAid Bangladesh published a similar report, where they surveyed 200 RMG workers and found that 80 percent of them had experienced or witnessed abuse at work. At the time, the BGMEA's only response was to reject the report, terming it to be harmful to the global image of the industry.
We would argue that such statements, and the callous disregard of such serious allegations, harm the image of the industry more than the reports themselves. We can no longer continue to dismiss these allegations and brush them under the carpet. The authorities must investigate these allegations and ensure that the rights of women and of workers are no longer violated.