Bangladesh’s garment industry: improvements and pathways

Bangladesh’s garment industry at a glance

Bangladesh’s garment industry has grown rapidly over the past three decades. The sector is now the second largest exporter of ready-made garments after China and the biggest contributor to the country’s export earnings. With the highest number of green garment factories in the world, the Bangladesh readymade garment (RMG) industry has been leading the world in sustainable garment manufacturing. The sector accounts for 83% of total export earnings of the country.

According a survey of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), as of December 2020, total exports stood at USD 27.4 billion, capturing a market share of 6.30% out of the global apparel export market of $435 billion. While the industry suffered a temporary setback due to Covid-19, demand has started to recover again.

Labour issues in Bangladesh’s garment industry

This rapid growth in the country’s garment industry hasn’t come without a price. Most notable was the devastating Tazreen Group factory fire in 2012 and the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013. These two horrific events shocked the world, killing more than 1,000 workers and raising widespread international attention to the working conditions in the country and the role of international buyers in protecting workers. In response to these tragedies, there have been many multi-stakeholder efforts to improve safety conditions in workplaces throughout the country.

Bangladesh’s RMG sector is now moving towards a transparent and compliant industry regarding factory safety and value-chain responsibility after initiatives, such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers’ Safety, and the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC) were successfully undertaken.

Still, Fair Wear audits show that involuntary excessive overtime remains a common issue, along with poor worker-management dialogue and wages that are far below living wage benchmarks. Restrictions on workers’ rights to freedom of association also remain common as do gender issues and a lack of safe building standards.

A recent report, titled “The declining women workers in the Bangladesh RMG industry”, showed that the number of women workers in the country’s RMG industry continued to decline and stood at 54% in 2021. As per the report, 8% of the current women workers wanted to leave the RMG sector after one year and 27% after five years. The report also found that upward mobility is extremely limited for women garment workers.

What Fair Wear is doing

Fair Wear has been active in Bangladesh since 2007. There are currently 32 Fair Wear member brands sourcing from 229 factories across the country.

Besides implementing Fair Wear code of labour practices, our work in the country was focused on two high-risk topics: building and fire safety and gender-based violence. In response to the the incidents at Rana Plaza and the Tazreen Group, we launched our Enhanced Programme for Monitoring and Remediation in 2014, which was updated to Enhanced HRDD Policy on Fire, Structural and Electrical Safety in Bangladesh in 2022. The programme supports existing initiatives and efforts, such as the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and offers training sessions on fire and building safety for factory managers and trade unions. The programme also pushes Fair Wear member brands to think about the impact they’re making on the factory floor. We ask our member brands to consider things like how many factories they have a long-term relationship with or if their delivery times could be putting excessive pressure on a factory—questions that cut to the heart of the issues and prompt the reflection needed for change to occur.

Our Enhanced Programme also asks our member brands to gather additional information on the factories they source from in order for them to pinpoint what the biggest risks are. Once they are clear on the risks, they can find ways to prevent or address them moving forward. Rather than cutting and running when things get tough, our programme helps member brands think about what they can do to turn the situation around at the factories they source from.

Gender-based violence is another widespread issue throughout Bangladesh that our enhanced programme works to address. It calls for additional Workplace Education Programme (WEP) training sessions on gender issues and workplace harassment for management, supervisors and workers. A key part of these sessions is making workers and management aware of the Fair Wear complaints helpline available for workers to safely voice their concerns. At the end of each session, anti-harassment committees are also set up. These committees give workers a place to go for support within their factories and they help advocate for workers’ rights with factory management.

In August 2022, Fair Wear and GIZ Bangladesh came under one roof with a pilot project on Strengthening Local Capacity in the RMG Sector of Bangladesh to Ensure Workplaces are Safe from Gender-Based Violence and Harassment. Under this project, 24 trainers from 6 local organisations (Awaj Foundation, Bangladesh Labor Foundation, Karmojibi Nari, Phulki, Safety & Rights and Songshoptaque) received ToT (Training of Trainers). These 6 organistions will establish or reform AHCs into 60 factories total (per organisation 10 factories). Moreover, these organisations will be proliferating with Fair Wear WEPVHP program which started since 2012 in Bangladesh. Additionally, 43 factories’ selective AHC members received capacity build-up training till date and it will be continuing further for a certain number of factories. On top of that, as the third activity of the project, lobby and advocacy will be continuing towards ratifying ILC-190 and enacting law (country level) for Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace. These initiatives aligned with new HRDD policy which aims strengthening local capacity for structural change. The project time frame is from August 2022 to April 2024.

Along with these, on the request of member brands and International Accord, Fair Wear is conducting support visits to the factories with “Fair Price App” to sensitise and make the factory management learn using fair price app during their cost calculation allowing them to ring fence labor and other costs, the aim to lead a logical price negotiation with buyers. 

Interested in calculating labour minute value and product costing for this country? Check out our country calculators here.

Fair Wear does not raise funds directly for garment workers or the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster. Instead, we guide brands sourcing in Bangladesh on how to implement HRDD in their supply chain; train factory management on important topics, such as gender-based violence; work with suppliers on how to adopt responsible purchasing practices; and engage with local organisations to achieve lasting, systemic change in the country at policy-level.

The International Accord

In 2021 the International Accord signatories renewed their partnership and established the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. This agreement confirms the continued commitment of signatories to support workplace safety programmes in Bangladesh through cooperation with the RSC and further commits to establishing workplace safety programmes in other countries based on the outcome of feasibility studies. Additional commitments are made for exploring the scope of the agreement to address HRDD issues.

As member brands of Fair Wear, we expect close adherence to our policy on enhanced HRDD for fire, structural and electrical safety in Bangladesh, and promote its implementation as the preferred way to address these specific risks in Bangladesh. However, we also support the fact that a number of Fair Wear member companies have signed the Accord. These are:

  • Bel&Bo-Fabrimode NV
  • Bel-confect NV
  • Hakro GmbH
  • JBC n.v.
  • Mammut Sports Group AG
  • Montane Ltd.
  • s.Oliver Bernd Freier GmbH & Co. KG
  • Schijvens Confectiefabriek Hilvarenbeek B.V.
  • Takko Holding GmbH
  • TH Clothes – Biscana
  • Tricorp bv
  • Zeeman textielSupers BV

Quick link to Enhanced HRDD Policy on Fire, Structural and Electrical Safety in Bangladesh



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