After devastating incidents in 2012 and 2013, Bangladesh’s garment industry is showing signs of improvement

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. It is estimated that there are more than 7,000 factories in the country, with production centred in and around Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayangong, Tongi, Shavar and Konabari.

Labour issues in Bangladesh’s garment industry

This rapid growth in the country’s garment industry hasn’t come without a price. Most notably 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. As a result, the garment industry in Bangladesh is making strides towards becoming a more sustainable market for investment and sourcing with improved governmental policies, better working conditions, adoption of energy-efficient production processes and more. 

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.

What Fair Wear is doing

Fair Wear has been active in Bangladesh since 2007. There are currently 23 Fair Wear member brands sourcing from 229 factories across the country.

Our work in the country is focused on two high-risk topics: building and fire safety and gender-based violence. The incidents at Rana Plaza and the Tazreen Group brought fire and building safety into the spotlight. In response, we launched our Enhanced Programme for Monitoring and Remediation in 2014 to tackle these issues. 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.

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


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