25-year-old Khalil is seen typing away his data entry assignment, at the Distribution Section of Posmi Sweaters, a factory located in Gazipur. Like any other worker at the factory, Khalil is trying to meet his deadline before hitting lunch break, during which he would hang out with his fellow colleagues from the 'Stitching' and 'Pattern' departments, who also happen to be his friends. "I was working with them till last week," he smiles. "I was shifted to the Administration section because I was trained in computers at the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP)." Khalil is missing fingers from his right hand, and his left arm is slightly twisted. Clearly, he has to make an extra effort to type instructions and compose letters and memos. However, he does it with accuracy and speed.
Less than two years ago, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between CRP, Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers, Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Promotion of Social and Environmental Standards in the Industry (PSES), to start an Inclusive Job Centre (IJC)—a platform using which workers with disabilities would be evaluated and placed at several positions of work in factories. Later on, Bangladesh Knit Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) joined the platform. Around 200 factories are now part of this project. PSES is a joint project of the governments of Bangladesh and Germany. It is being implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaftfür Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, which works on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), in partnership with the Bangladesh government.
Khalil had just finished his BCom exams in Mymensingh, when he injured himself by falling off a tree. "The local kobiraaj had given me some medical treatment, which had not worked," he says. "In fact, by the time I reached Mymensingh Medical, my arms were in a bad state. Eventually, my fingers had to be cut off."
Like Khalil, several other individuals with disabilities are now working at Posmi Sweaters. Rupali, in her late teens, is working as an Assistant Admin Officer, at the factory. Her legs are partially paralysed and she sometimes has to use the crutches or the wheelchair to move around faster.
"There are around 2,000 employees working in the factory," says Moshiul Azam Shajal, Managing Director, Posmi Sweaters Ltd. "Many of them have some form of disability or other. I remember last year, there was a woman whose legs were paralysed. But when she came for the induction training, we noticed she was quick with numbers and a very sharp worker. She worked with us for less than a year, after which she got a better job offer and left."
At the induction training, all the new trainees come together for workshops, trainings, counseling and safety trainings as well. "We do a small orientation programme and show them around the factory," he says. "Also, we show them what to do during a fire, earthquake and give them first-aid training as well."
Posmi is one of the 200 Ready-Made Garments (RMG) factories where PSES is working through its partner organisation CDD for mainstreaming persons with disabilities in the RMG workforce. Posmi Sweaters factory, for instance, has set up barrier-free access to buildings by installing ramps. All in all, more than 300 persons with disabilities have been successfully trained to work in the sewing machine department as operators and supervisors, along with 2400 persons without disabilities. Seventy five percent of these trained people were placed in suitable positions apart from the 500 people with disabilities who are interested to work in the garment sector and have registered at the job centre, situated at CRP Mirpur, specifically set up for this purpose. Here, they are given advice and training and placed in employment.
According to Sarwat Ahmad, Senior Advisor, PSES, GIZ, the IJC has already organised several sensitisation meetings and workshops to increase employment and career opportunities for persons with disabilities in the RMG sector. "The centre is operated as a platform which would help in sharing of information, counselling, capacity building and also offer support to find jobs for individuals with special needs."
A tour inside Posmi Sweaters will showcase hard work, honesty and sheer determination amongst the workers to achieve their goals as best as possible. It goes to show how including all identities in the workforce would not only make this country a better economy, but also build a nation based on compassion and humanity.