Phase 1, 2014-2015
In May 2015, the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) completed a set of training courses to promote women’s leadership in Bangladesh. To gauge the effectiveness of the programme, an evaluation was conducted into the programme by the Danish union federation 3F.
Key findings of the evaluation were:
Based on recommendations in the evaluation report, a second phase of the project was organised and funded by TUC Aid.
Phase 2, completed 2019
This project aimed to build a group of experienced women leaders with the National Garment Workers’ Federation (NGWF), who could lead their individual unions and eventually take positions on the executive of NGWF. In doing so, it would also increase awareness of key developments in Bangladesh labour law, and other important challenges facing the country’s trade unions. The project followed on from previous work completed in 2015 with the NGWF around organising and leadership training for women, and was supported by the Danish union 3F.
Follow up work:
The TUC was also awarded funds through the Ethical Trading Initiative’s DFID-supported innovation fund to support union affiliated members of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) to help, through training, guidance and one to one support, achieve early remedy when faced with breaches of the ETI base code/ILO standards.
Bangladesh remains a very important battleground for workers’ rights. As complex textiles supply chains continue to rely on cheap labour, the work to help Bangladesh’s workers access legal protection and industrial power will continue. The ITUC has already begun moves through the International Labour Organisation to have the country investigated at the highest level for its suppression of workers’ rights. With the costly effect this would have on Bangladesh’s trade deal with the EU in particular, we should expect a strong rebuttal from the government, but also the potential for fundamental reforms if the pressure is strong enough.
Political support and solidarity will also be needed in the near future as the government completes moves to shut down the Bangladesh Accord on Fire Safety (set up in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy), in which unions played a role in transforming the health & safety landscape for workplaces linked to Western supply chains. The government will now take over responsibility for ensuring safe workplaces, but it is still ranked as one of the most hostile regimes to trade union freedoms. In 2019, strikes over minimum wages shut down the garment industry for a while, and the government responded with violence and persecution (though the demands of the strikers were also met).
For the advancement of women leaders, there remains the frustration of a very slow turnover at the top of the major union federations. To secure jobs at the very top, women are being forced to set up splinter federations, further fragmenting an already complicated union scene. But the training provided is clearly boosting the numbers of women occupying positions on federation executives, and taking charge of factory level unions, and is slowly helping the country’s unions become genuinely representative.
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