SAFER Towards a Ready Made Garment sector for Bangladesh

Towards a
Ready Made Garment sector
for Bangladesh
Progress made and way ahead
Since the Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen Fashions fire an unprecedented
effort has been made to enhance workplace safety and improve workers’
rights in Bangladesh’s Ready Made Garment (RMG) Sector.
Significant improvements have been made, a number of
which are highlighted in this publication. There have been
legislative changes with the revision of the Bangladesh
Labour Act, introducing new safety measures and making it
easier to form trade unions. Building inspection standards
have been harmonised, procedures established for closure
of unsafe factories and almost 60% of garment factories
nationwide inspected for structural and fire safety. The
society. International brands and retailers have launched
the Accord and Alliance to support the inspection of factories
they source from. The Rana Plaza Arrangement has been
set up with brands and retailers as well as other donors
contributing to the compensation fund for Rana Plaza victims
and dependents.
regulatory authorities such as the Labour Inspectorate are
being rebuilt from the ground up with both new and existing
inspectors from the factories and fire safety departments
receiving comprehensive training. The first instalment of
compensation has been paid to the Rana Plaza victims.
Meanwhile, employers and workers organizations are taking
an active role in training mid-level managers, supervisors
and trade union leaders on occupational safety and health as
well as workers’ rights issues.
workers’ rights. Collaboration between stakeholders has
been intense and fruitful. There are differences of opinion on
how to move forwards on many things but at the end of the
day we are all working together for a safer garment industry.
We are making change happen.
The Government of Bangladesh has shown real commitment
to change. It acted quickly to amend legislation and to
strengthen the Labour Inspectorate by upgrading it and
allocating additional funds. It has committed to recruit more
inspectors and take measures
The Government of
to strengthen labour rights
Bangladesh has shown real and improve safety in the
commitment to change.
RMG sector. By the end of
September 2014 there were 367 trade unions in the RMG
sector compared to just 131 at the beginning of 2013.
Workers and trade unions are seeking more opportunities
and support to become organised and find space for
dialogue on safety and workers’ rights issues.
A wide range of other stakeholders have also played an
important role. Employers and workers organizations have
been active as have development partners, NGOs and civil
Momentum has grown to improve work place safety and
Despite this, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges
that still lie ahead.
The green shoots of progress are fragile and need
considerable nurturing. While notable progress has been
made, momentum must be maintained and more needs
to be done in fulfilment of commitments by national and
international players. In particular, on-going building
assessments should be swiftly followed by remediation
measures to ensure health and safety of workers at work.
Resources need to be found for completion of remediation
by all factories including those currently not receiving any
support from Accord and Alliance and efforts should continue
to fully realise in law and practice the rights of freedom of
association and collective bargaining.
Further amendments to the Bangladesh Labour
Act are necessary based on comments of the ILO
Committee of Experts on Application of Conventions
and Recommendations. The rules for implementation of
Bangladesh Labour Act need to be adopted swiftly, and
Photo: Md. Main Uddin/Drik
monitoring mechanisms need to be strengthened to ensure
sustainability of improvements in RMG factories.
The Rana Plaza Trust Fund is still falling short of the required
amount to compensate the Rana Plaza workers and their
families based on the principles of ILO Convention 121 on
Work Place Injuries. Based on the experiences of the ‘Rana
Plaza Arrangement’ for compensating those affected by the
collapse, development of an employment injury insurance
programme should be taken up as a priority.
Since Tazreen and Rana Plaza the ILO has sought to
coordinate, collaborate and deliver change. In our neutral
role we stand alongside the government, employers and
workers alike. The challenge of creating a safe working
environment in Bangladesh’s RMG sector is immense,
yet it is one that we cannot shy away from. We must
seek to address the key challenges of capacity, pace of
implementation, compliance, governance and accountability.
At the same time expectations must be realistic for a long
and difficult road stretches ahead.
The stakes, however, are incredibly high. Bangladesh’s RMG
sector employs some 4.2 million workers and generates
US$21.5 billion revenues annually. The industry is the major
driver of Bangladesh’s development. Most workers are
women from poor backgrounds for whom jobs in the RMG
sector are a lifeline out of
poverty. Continued growth While notable progress has
been made, momentum
of the garment industry is
must be maintained.
critical for eradication of
poverty in Bangladesh. The
challenge therefore is maintaining the balance between
attracting investment, ensuring safer work places and
promoting jobs with rights while attaining the goal of Decent
Work for All.
Together, all partners and stakeholders involved in
improving labour standards and safety in the Bangladesh
RMG sector must rise to the challenge. We cannot afford
to fail.
Srinivas B Reddy
Country Director ILO Bangladesh
Enhanced collaboration and commitment
Following Rana Plaza local and international organizations
rapidly signalled their commitment to contribute to relief
efforts. Agreement was also quickly reached on the need
for the inspection of all RMG factories and longer-term
processes to enhance inspection and compliance.
In view of the urgent need to address RMG safety issues it
was vital for programmes and initiatives to be operational
without delay.
ILO developed the Improving Working Conditions in the
Ready Made Garment Sector Programme with the support of
the Netherlands, Canada and UK in
With many initiatives just three months, launching it on 22
October 2013.
ongoing, strong
Photo: ILO
A changing dynamic in the RMG sector
The loss of 1,136 lives when Rana Plaza collapsed on 24 April
2013 sent shockwaves worldwide. Coming just months after
the fatal fire at Tazreen Fashions in which 112 died it was
clear that the Bangladesh Ready Made Garment (RMG) sector
had reached a crucial juncture. Business could not continue
as usual. Fundamental changes relating to safety, inspection
and compliance had to be made if the lives of over four
million workers were to be safeguarded and the confidence
of global buyers retained. Global supply chain governance
and compliance with international labour standards came
under intense scrutiny.
Following the Tazreen and Rana Plaza disasters a framework
for the enhancement of building and fire safety in
Bangladesh was developed in the form of a Tripartite Joint
Statement, signed by government, workers’ and employers’
representatives on 4 May 2013. This statement, and the
process that led to it, signified a change in the dynamics
of the Bangladesh garment industry. It reflected a clear
commitment by the Government of Bangladesh to work
with the employers and workers to improve safety of the
RMG sector, steps which were later detailed in the National
Tripartite Plan of Action (NTPA). It also saw considerable
engagement with, and input from, the international brands
and retailers as well as development partners.
ILO made a significant contribution to this process. ILO
Deputy Director General Gilbert Houngbo led an ILO mission
to Bangladesh just days after the Rana Plaza collapse and
played a neutral role to facilitate dialogue between the
government, employers, workers, development partners and
other stakeholders. ILO helped identify key areas for action
and to develop the Tripartite Joint Statement on Building
and Fire Safety. Importantly, ILO strongly advocated for
buyers worldwide to ‘stay with Bangladesh’; that despite
the challenges the RMG industry faced they could be
addressed and that any rush for the exit by international
brands would have far
reaching consequences for ILO strongly advocated for
the estimated 4.2 million
buyers worldwide to ‘stay
garment workers, many of
with Bangladesh’
whom are women.
coordination has
been needed.
The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and
Building Safety, signed by 187
apparel corporations from 20 countries, global and local
trade unions, NGOs and workers’ rights groups was formed
on 13 May 2013. Meanwhile, the Alliance for Bangladesh
Worker Safety bringing together 26 mainly North American
brands was established on 9 July 2013. Both the Accord and
Alliance have carried out intensive inspection programmes
of factories which they source from.
A Sustainability Compact to promote continuous
improvements in labour rights and factory safety in the
Ready Made Garment and Knitwear Industry in Bangladesh
was also launched by the European Union and governments
of Bangladesh and USA with support from ILO on 8 July
With many initiatives ongoing, strong coordination has
been needed. Local Consultative Groups play an important
role as does close collaboration through the ‘5+3+1’
process bringing together five major donors (EU, US, UK,
Netherlands and Canada) three key ministries (Labour and
Employment, Foreign Affairs and Finance) and ILO.
Looking forward, the challenge for the Bangladesh garment
industry is to ready its institutional, regulatory and oversight
mechanisms relating to building and fire safety to ensure
a safe working environment in the RMG sector once the
current support from external partners ends. It is equally
important that the capacity and will of employers’ and
workers’ organizations to engage in social dialogue and
build trust is supported and that experiences gained help
enrich future policies and practices in the sector.
Better Work Bangladesh
Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) is a flagship
ILO initiative launched in October 2013 as
part of its Improving Working Conditions
Programme in the RMG Sector. BWB focuses
on building factory-level industrial relations
so that management and workers are together
better able to prevent, identify and solve
problems in the workplace.
Better Work is an innovative partnership
between the ILO and the International Finance
Corporation. Better Work Bangladesh is
funded by France, the USA and Switzerland
as well as Canada, the Netherlands and UK.
The global Better Work programme is funded
by Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands and
Switzerland as well as through corporate
donations from the Levi Strauss Foundation
and the United States Council Foundation. For
more information see
24 November 2012
Fire at Tazreen Fashions
results in 112 deaths.
September 2014
Second installment of
compensation awarded
for approximately 800
Rana Plaza victims.
22 October 2013
ILO launches US$24 million
Improving Working Conditions
in the Ready Made Garment
Sector Programme funded by
Canada, Netherlands and UK.
November 2013
Harmonized Standards for Factory
Inspection agreed by all parties.
December 2013
50 survivors of Rana Plaza collapse complete ILO skills
enhancement training training through BRAC.
5 November 2013
The Government
of Bangladesh
adopts National
Occupational Safety
and Health Policy.
15 January 2013
Tripartite statement on National Plan
of Action on Fire Safety issued.
24 March 2013
National Tripartite Plan of Action on
Fire Safety (NTPA) in the RMG Sector
of Bangladesh developed.
December 2013
ILO and Action Aid Bangladesh
launch programme for rehabilitation
of Rana Plaza survivors with disabilities.
January 2014
Chief Inspector of Factories and
Establishments office upgraded to
a Department and budget strengthened.
24 April 2013
Rana Plaza building collapse
leads to the loss of 1,136 lives.
13 May 2013
Accord on Building and
Fire Safety in Bangladesh launched.
7 November 2013
The Rana Plaza Coordination
Cell officially launched at Savar.
30 April 2014
Website of Department of Inspection
of Factories and Establishment
and RMG factory database launched.
22 April 2014
BDT 50,000 (USD 650) advance
payment made to each victim
of Rana Plaza collapse.
15 July 2013
The Government of Bangladesh adopts
amendments to the Bangladesh Labour Act.
10 July 2013
The Alliance for Bangladesh
Worker Safety launched.
8 July 2013
EU, Government of Bangladesh and
ILO issue Global Sustainability Compact.
June 2014
125 labour Inspectors
receive training from ILO.
25 July 2013
National Tripartite Plan of Action on
Fire Safety and Structural Integrity
in the Bangladesh RMG Sector issued.
1 May 2013
Joint Statement of the tripartite partners
to address the disasters in RMG Sector.
August 2014
First installment of compensation
confirmed for 700 Rana Plaza victims.
30 September 2014
1,992 (nearly 60%)
of RMG Factories
in Bangladesh
inspected for fire
and structural safety.
January 2014
Introductory training course for
newly recruited Labour Inspectors held.
7 September 2014
ILO provides 95 motor vehicles
for use by labour Inspectors.
24 March 2014
Rana Plaza Claims Administration
(RPCA) cell opens at Savar.
28 January 2014
Rana Plaza Trust
Fund launched.
September 2014
Total number of RMG
trade unions rises
to 367 compared to
131 in early 2013
30 September 2014
Payment of compensation
commences with BDT127,090,251
(US$1,649,452) disbursed.
Factory inspections advance,
government capacity grows
Following the Rana Plaza collapse the immediate priority
was to inspect all 3,500 Ready Made Garment factories
throughout Bangladesh for fire and structural safety. By the
end of September 2014, 1,992 factories had been inspected
by three initiatives, the Accord, Alliance and the Bangladesh
University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) under the
National Tripartite Plan of Action.
Preliminary inspections by Accord and Alliance have been
completed while those carried out under the remit of the
National Initiative should be finished by March 2015.
Photo: Md. Main Uddin/Drik
An improved legislative environment
In the aftermath of Rana Plaza it was clear that fundamental
legislative and regulatory changes needed to be made. The
revision of the Bangladesh Labour Act (2006) was identified
as a priority to create a solid foundation upon which safety
in the RMG sector could be built. The process of reviewing
the Labour Act commenced in early 2013 with the revised
Act adopted by the Parliament on 15 July 2014. The speed
with which these changes took place was significant and
sent a strong signal that the Government of Bangladesh is
committed to enhancing labour standards.
Major changes introduced by the new Labour Act included
the simplification of provisions relating to the registration
of trade unions. By the end of September 2013 the total
number of unions in RMG factories stood at 367, compared
to 131 at the start of 2013. Outside experts are now allowed
to come into factories to negotiate with management on
the union’s behalf. A central fund is to be created to improve
living standards of workers. The Act stipulates that safety
and health committees including members of the workforce
must be established in every factory with over 50 workers.
Meanwhile, other mandatory measures include the setting
up of dispensaries and clinics in factories.
ILO used its expertise in this field to facilitate the process.
It advocated strongly for the revision with government
ministries while also giving testimony within parliament as
to the need for changes. Advice and support was provided
to employers and workers organizations and ILO experts
examined several drafts of the revised Labour Act, making
comments and suggestions at every stage.
Although the new Labour Act still falls short with regards
to ILO conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association
and collaborative bargaining the revisions provide a firmer
foundation for more
The Labour Act revisions
equitable labour practices
provide a firmer foundation
that can and will continue
for more equitable labour
to be built upon. Priority
practices that can and will
at time of writing is being
continue to be built upon.
placed on the finalisation
of rules that will enable
implementation of the new provisions, which is of especial
interest for the ILO’s Better Work programme in the RMG
sector. In addition, a credible dispute resolution system
must be built to ensure that the newly reinforced rights
for freedom of association are respected and problems
addressed systematically and effectively.
The inspection process has had to overcome a series of
challenges. An intense and ongoing period of coordination
and collaboration facilitated by ILO has seen Alliance, Accord
and BUET agree common inspection standards based on the
Bangladesh National Building Code and international good
upgraded to a department in January 2014, high level
leadership installed, positions for 392 new inspectors
created and budget boosted from US$900,000 in 2013-14
to US$ 3 million in 2014-15.
Although the recruitment of inspectors is a positive
development, both new and existing staff need intensive
capacity building. ILO is implementing a comprehensive
programme to train inspectors and to enhance governance
and accountability of the labour inspection system. A labour
inspection road map has been agreed between ILO and
the Ministry of Labour that will form the basis for future ILO
support to this reform process.
Meanwhile, the planned establishment of an accountability
unit within DIFE as well as the launch of a public data base
and website where inspection reports can be accessed
represent a step towards transparency and openness for the
inspection service.
The process of harmonisation is a significant achievement
that has helped create a far more solid foundation not only
for the current round of inspections but also one on which
the Bangladesh inspection service can build for the future.
Enhancing government capacity
Following Rana Plaza it was clear that the labour inspectorate
required a complete overhaul if it was to be effective. As a
result, the Government of
The process of inspection Bangladesh made a series
harmonisation is a
of major commitments to
significant achievement rebuild the Department
on which the Bangladesh of Inspection for Factories
inspection service can
and Establishments (DIFE).
build for the future.
The inspection service was
Photo: ILO
Supporting Rana Plaza victims and families
Through ILO support, 300 injured workers are receiving
counselling and livelihoods support in collaboration with
NGOs Action Aid and BRAC. More than 1,500 others are
receiving support from civil society organisations.
Meanwhile, a compensation scheme and claims process
based on ILO standards on employment injury was
established through the Rana Plaza Arrangement between
the Bangladesh Ministry of Labour, leading buyers,
employers’ and workers’ organizations as well as civil society
A Coordination Committee is managing the compensation
scheme with ILO as the neutral and independent chair. By
the 30 September 2014 deadline 2,849 claims had been
received relating to injured workers and dependents of the
Photo: Md. Main Uddin/Drik
Advance payments of BDT 50,000 (Approx. US$650)
were made to all eligible claimants in April 2014 and BDT
700,808,795 (Approx. US$9,063,000) has been awarded
to some 1,500 cases
It is expected that all claims will
to date. In September
2014 payment of awards be processed and awards made
by November 2014.
commenced when
BDT127,090,251 (US$
1,649,452) was disbursed. It is expected that all claims will
be processed and awards made by November 2014.
The current total now available for awards through the Rana
Plaza Donors Trust Fund is just under US$19.4 million. This is
still well short of the US$40 million estimated to be needed
for all beneficiaries and further support of the brands and
retailers as well as national and international stakeholders is
needed to help compensate all victims and their families.
Once payments are made the lengthy rehabilitation and
skills training process for those in need will continue.
Moving forward, ILO also plans to work with Government
of Bangladesh to establish a Universal Employment Injury
Insurance Programme. This would provide compensation
or support to workers in the event of any future industrial
accident, not just in the RMG sector but in any factory, and
would be a major step forward for Bangladesh.
Photo: ILO
In the absence of any universal employment injury insurance
scheme, dependents of the deceased or those injured
by the Rana Plaza collapse faced an uncertain future. A
considerable effort involving partners from Bangladesh and
around the world has helped provide support to victims,
their families and dependents for losses and needs arising
from the accident.
Strengthening labour rights
Empowered, aware and organized, workers have a key role
to play in maintaining harmonious industrial relations and
securing safe work places.
Recognising that the majority The need to strengthen
of garment workers are
labour rights was brought
women, special emphasis
into sharp focus with the
is being placed on training
Rana Plaza collapse where
women trade union leaders. large-scale loss of life may
have been avoided had workers been better able to voice
concerns over the safety of the building.
Two initiatives carried out by ILO under the umbrella of
its Ready Made Garment Sector programme are helping
workers and their representatives to exercise their rights and
improve labour-management cooperation at the
enterprise level.
Funded by the US Department of Labor and the Royal
Norwegian Government the projects address specific
challenges faced by workers’ and employers’ organisations
by building local capacity in relation to freedom of
association and collective bargaining.
In addition to playing a role in the revision of the Bangladesh
Labour Law, advocacy and training have contributed to the
increase in RMG sector trade unions.
The capacity of over 2,500 workers’ representatives, trade
union organizers, mid-level managers and employers’
organization members has been enhanced through various
training events. Recognising that the majority of garment
workers are women, special emphasis is being placed on
training women trade union leaders and organizers on key
labour rights. Practical knowledge and skills are also being
provided that will enable women leaders to educate and
organize workers at factory level in order to improve working
conditions in the RMG sector.
A registration process and electronic database established
within the Department of Labour is helping facilitate
trade union registration. Representatives of government,
employers and workers organizations as well as Industrial
Relations Institutes have been trained on the use of Interest
Based Negotiation (IBN) techniques to help develop mutual
trust and cooperation.
A process is also ongoing to set up a dispute settlement
and mediation system with the Department of Labour
which should help address anti-union discrimination and
terminations. In addition, a significant public advocacy
campaign targeting over 100,000 workers and other
stakeholders on rights and workplace cooperation is
underway in order to promote a greater dialogue among
the public.
Design: Nipun/Drik
Cover photo: Md. Main Uddin/Drik
Contact information
ILO Ready-Made Garment Project
ILO Country Office for Bangladesh
House # 16, Road # 99, Gulshan-2
Dhaka 1212, Bangladesh
Tel: +88 02 8881462
Fax: +88 02 811 4211
Email: [email protected]
Copyright © International Labour Organization 2014
ILO’s activities to improve working conditions in the Ready Made Garment Sector are supported by
Workers’ rights and fire safety initiatives carried out by ILO are supported by