Producing socially conscious and eco-friendly clothing

The law in Bangladesh demands that textile manufacturers comply with social and environmental standards. Yet the reality is often different. With support from GIZ, over 2,000 businesses have started paying fair wages, allowing co-determination, and complying with regulations governing employment and environmental protection – which benefits all those involved.

The clothing industry in Bangladesh is growing rapidly. The country is already the second largest producer of textiles after China. This business accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s exports and provides work for 3.8 million people, most of them women.

Knowledge – the key to better standards

Wages in Bangladesh’s textile factories are not keeping up with the rising costs of living. The working conditions do not meet the standards set by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

In 2006 the Government of Bangladesh reversed its policies so that minimum social standards for wages, working hours, occupational health and safety, and maternity protection are now anchored in national employment law. But to monitor compliance factory owners, managers and workers, and associations, non-governmental organisations and government offices need relevant knowledge and qualifications.

On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and with the help of funding from the European Union, GIZ has provided support to over 2,000 companies with a total of 1.5 million employees since 2005. In the past four years, 650 textile factories markedly improved their social and environmental standards, and 230 factories were certified for at least one international labour standard.

GIZ organises training for associations and corporate service providers in implementing better working conditions – in addition to fair pay, this includes fire safety and the safe handling of chemicals.

Instruction is also provided on saving energy and reducing sewing faults. GIZ informs the manufacturing firms of the results of case studies that document the improvement of social and environmental standards and the impacts both on employees’ living conditions and the productivity of the company.

Knowledge about and awareness of social standards are now widespread in many businesses: 1,000 factory workers have certified expertise in the social standards enshrined in national employment law. Around 500 factory managers have been trained in improving working conditions.

Women’s cafés support female workers

Some 100,000 female workers regularly attend women’s cafés where they learn about their labour rights through training courses, plays, games, posters and films; in the 45 cafés set up with support from GIZ, 10,000 women have been trained in how to conduct meetings. They know the legal social standards and negotiate with the factory management. Legal advice and medical treatment are also on offer at the cafés.

These women’s cafés have now strengthened many female employees in their roles – some of them have risen to managerial positions, have become the main breadwinner in their family, and as such also now enjoy greater recognition in society.