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Bangladesh is a focus of the struggle for workers’ rights in global supply chains (GSCs). The country, which is the world’s second largest exporter of apparel after China, hit the news in 2013 after the devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza complex killed over 1,200 workers, who had been well aware of the structure’s weakness but too afraid of punishment from bosses to refuse to work in it.
The TUC and its affiliates were at the centre of the campaign to raise compensation from UK brands for the victims and their families, and to get them to sign up to the Bangladesh Accord for Fire & Safety, a binding agreement that requires brands to ensure safe working in their supply chains and to respect freedom of association. After union campaigning, most relevant British brands become members.
Bangladesh’s government remains hostile to trade unions, making it hard for them to register and is slack about enforcing what protections exist to help unions represent their members. The government’s refusal to apply its own laws continues to leave workers vulnerable to serious injury and death.
The TUC is also, through TUC Aid projects, helping Bangladesh’s unions grow, develop and adapt to the new world of work, especially around better engagement and representation of women, who make up 70% of garment workers.