Improving the capacity of the workers to ensure decent work in the RMG for local market in Bangladesh

The Ready-made Garment Industry for the local market in Bangladesh made a silent revolution apart from the radical growth of the export-oriented garment industry. The industry contributed by covering around 80% of local consumption. The supply of cheap leftover cloths from RMG factories is the main growth engine for this industry as the local tailors quickly switch to using cheap foreign cloths to make apparels which are marketed across the country. Very recently a large number of small-scale industries and workshops were established in different areas of Bangladesh to supply various industrial products and meet the demands of ever-growing capital and countrywide. The RMG for the local market mainly uses various inputs including fabric, garment accessories, and allied industries services such as washing, embroidery, labels, packaging, etc. to design and make a wide range of male and female apparel mainly to cater to local low cost and price-sensitive market segments. In other words, these garment industries fall between the supply chains of a complete industry that produces and markets a variety of clothes and apparel mainly for local consumers.

The largest RMG for the local market is situated in Keraniganj which stands on the southwest side of Dhaka City on the bank of the Buriganga River. It is a sub-district of Dhaka district adjacent to the Dhaka Metropolitan City but separated by the river. It is spread over 166.87 square kilometers consisting of 12 unions. In Keraniganj, there are as many as 6,350 garments factories of different sizes, production lines and capacities currently exist in these areas, fulfilling 80 percent of garments demands as they sell clothes worth about Tk 500 million a day. Keraniganj based garment workers are mostly employed in plants and sales centers. Altogether, more than 185,000 men, women, and children are currently employed in Keraniganj in March 2016. Out of the total employment, 143,000 people are directly employed in the factory level activities while the remaining 42,000 people are employed in sales centers. Apart from direct employment, the backward linkage industry also employed more than 150,000 employees in the process of the supply chain.

The RMG for the local market has successfully blended the high-tech RMG industry production processes with traditional tailoring skills to give a new industry that provides a high level of efficiency, the economy of scale, and productivity, all contributing to low-cost products with reasonable quality. This industry has also brought a lot of innovation in product design, production processes, technology adaptations, and product diversification. All these give it a sustainable high-growth industry that now enjoys a significant market share at the local level.

The Government has no role in the development of this industry. It is developed rather haphazardly with private initiatives from local and outside entrepreneurs who have used their private capital to develop this industry.

The working conditions in these small garment manufacturing units are, by any standards, appalling. In Keraniganj and other places almost every aspect of the living conditions lack decent standards. The general environment lacks proper sanitation; the buildings typically lack adequate lighting, ventilation, or even the most rudimentary furnishing. Consequences of these conditions include poor nutrition, illiteracy, and high incidences of disease and mortality.

Through this project, BLF is increasing and improving the capacity of the workers in respect to freedom of association and collective bargaining mostly young and women workers, and also strengthening the capacity of the trade union leaders to organise more. On the other hand, the knowledge of the workers on occupational health and safety is very narrow. The awareness of occupational health and safety is another priority of the current project. The supply of safe drinking water is being used as a tool to organise and ensure accessibility in the factory. As a whole, the project is contributing to the improvement of the working conditions, reducing gender discrimination by building strong and sustainable trade unions with increasing membership is the ultimate vision of this project.

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