November, 11 2014 |  Download PDF |  Share

Unprecedented Changes in Bangladesh


Breakthrough in Bangladesh,
Millions of Garment Workers Will Benefit

By Charles Kernaghan
Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights

I never thought we would see the day when Bangladeshi garment workers would work an eight-hour shift, six days a week for a 48-hour workweek.  But that is exactly what is happening in the Ha-Meem and Windy Group factories — and soon will be in other factories where workers and the Institute have demanded changes.  

Today for the 60,000 workers of the Ha-Meem and Windy Groups of factories, all overtime is now voluntary and paid at the legal double time rate — which is 84 cents an hour for a senior worker.  Total workweek cannot exceed 60 hours.  For the first time, women garment workers are receiving their full maternity leave and benefits, whereas just months ago, pregnant women were routinely fired, robbed of their legal rights, and often threatened and beaten if they persisted in demanding their legal rights.  

At the Next Collections factory, we were able to demand the firing of ten corrupt and highly abusive senior managers.  Today, the workers are no longer beaten, forced to toil 14- to 17-hour shifts, seven days a week, and cheated of their wages and overtime.  Thanks to serious and ongoing collaboration among the workers, the Institute and Gap, some 50,000 workers at Next Collections and other factories belonging to the giant Ha-Meem Group receive their legal benefits and decent working conditions.

And, in July, the Institute reached out to the Swedish retailer H&M with regard to poor conditions at the 10,000 worker Windy Group in Bangladesh.  Once alerted, H&M and the Windy Group immediately initiated major improvements.  Overtime hours have been reduced.

Workers now receive Fridays and national holidays off.  All hours are recorded and paid correctly.  Pregnant women workers are now treated well and paid their correct maternity leave.
These Bangladeshi garment workers are telling us that their working conditions, hours, wages and benefits — and their lives — are far better now.

We believe that this is a moment when change is possible in Bangladesh, and that with continued attention, pressure and solidarity, it will be possible to win enduring improvements for the 4.5 to 5 million garment workers across Bangladesh.  But, for these changes to endure, there is another missing piece: Bangladeshi workers must be afforded their rights to organize and to bargain collectively, recognized under Bangladeshi and international law.


Some of the Poorest Workers in the World
Fight Back and Win

For the last 31 years, from 1983 to 2014, the Bangladeshi garment industry has been booming.  Bangladesh is now the second largest garment manufacturer in the world, right behind China.  Bangladesh’s lifeline, garment exports — which account for 80 percent of the country’s export earnings, an expected $26.9 billion in 2014 — is driven by the nearly five million mostly young women garment workers.

The Bangladeshi garment workers, accompanied by the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, led the groundbreaking improvements at some of Bangladesh’s largest apparel producers, including Next Collections, That’s It Sportswear and the entire Ha-Meem Group with its 26 factories and over 50,000 workers.  The Institute and the garment workers played the same pivotal role at the Windy Group, which has now dramatically improved worker rights practices to the benefit of 10,000 workers.


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