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Last week, FWF’s Margreet Vrieling visited Bangladesh, where she trained new auditors and further invested in FWF’s stakeholder network.
Dhaka severely taxes all of your senses: traffic noises of cars that never stop using their horns and rickshaws ringing their bells, the smell of garbage in the streets, the 35 C heat… and if you know what to look for, you will spot a garment factory wherever you go.
Stuck in the amazingly chaotic traffic, I saw a Dhaka phenomenon – at least, I´ve never seen it before in other countries: vans that looked like ambulances, with the text ‘On emergency export duty’. I doubt whether this will help them to more quickly navigate the mass of colourfully painted trucks, wrinkled rusty busses, big shiny cars and hard-working rickshaw whallas.
Transport is not the only challenge the companies face here. They also face power cuts, several times a day. In the past days the average was five times a day. Generators are indispensable to keep things going. For our auditors, therefore, checking generator records is a way of detecting hidden overtime.
For one of the audits performed during my stay, however, these records were not necessary. Through worker and stakeholder interviews the auditors already knew about the big amount of overtime. The management of the factory decided not to play hide and seek and to show the extra overtime payment data, not shown in the formal wage sheets. Being transparent on the issues that need improvement is a good step, which allows for cooperation on remediation.
We usually advise the factory and the buying FWF affiliate to do a root cause analysis of the excessive overtime, to see what the affiliate’s role is in reducing it. In this case, we’ll wait to see what the effect of the new wage structure will be on both the allocation of overtime and workers’ willingness to do it.
For since my last visit to Bangladesh, a very necessary revision of the legal minimum wage was negotiated, causing a lot of tension. Campaigning groups were out on the streets, resulting in violence and repression. Many unions in the garment sector came together to set a common demand: they asked for 5,000 taka (about €50) to be the new legal minimum wage. This positive cooperation gave the workers a voice and contributed to the wage improvement – although the target was not reached: for the lowest grade of workers the new minimum wage will be 3,000 taka, effective from this November. There is still a way to go to a living wage (10,754 according to the Asia Floor Wage), but it is a step forward. We´ll have to wait and see what kind of effect this will have on the excessive overtime.