Margreet in Bangladesh

This week, FWF’s international verification coordinator Margreet Vrieling visited Bangladesh.

During this visit, apart from observing an audit in a factory and a meeting with our auditors, I wanted to be updated on the latest developments in Bangladesh, especially on wages and working conditions. I spoke with many stakeholder organisations, active in the apparel industry, including the export organisation, trade unions and organisations that offer training to employees or are campaigning for better conditions. I also visited garment workers at home.

The fire in a garment factory in March raised international attention. Just after I arrived in Dhaka last week,  yet another major fire destroyed a multi-storey building, causing several deaths. Complying with fire safety measures and the building code is definitively something which deserves much more attention. Especially when you know that most garment factories in the city have several floor levels, often with thousands of employees.

On Sunday I visited the homes of garment workers. Our ultimate target group, for whom we strive for improvement. A very impressive experience that I will not soon forget. They live in small rooms separated by corrugated iron and a corrugated iron roof. In such a space of about 8 square meters,  the only piece of furniture is a bed.  Incredible that this is the home to families consisting of six people. Narrow dark corridors, where the children enthusiastically run in front of us, guide us through this ‘district’. They cook in a communal cooking space and also share a latrine.

During the brief conversations I had with them, the women explained that for the houses in this slum, they pay up to two-thirds of their income. They do not earn enough to provide adequately nutritious food for their families. Without exception, they all suffer from anaemia.

The rest of the week, all trade unions and organisations confirmed that the minimum wage is, next to fire safety, the issue that needs most priority. On the parliamentary agenda of the coming weeks is a new law on occupational safety and health, which will strengthen the legal framework for safer conditions at the workplace. Meanwhile, the so-called ‘wage board’ is negotiating a new minimum wage in Bangladesh. The current minimum wage is 1662 taka in Bangladesh, around 20 euros. This sum was fixed in 2006, and is below the worldwide recognised poverty line of 1$ a day. The proposals by each of the parties at the table show big differences. Let’s hope for a good negotiation result.

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