More than 4.5 million people in Bangladesh work in the textile industry, and the vast majority of them are women. The government has declared its aim to grow the industry even further and increase annual exports of textiles and clothing from USD 28 billion (2016) to USD 50 billion by 2021.
Although minimum standards for wages, working hours, workers’ rights and maternity protection have been in place in Bangladesh since 2006, many textile factories have still not reached the standards set by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The growth of the industry is also having an impact on the environment. More and more raw materials are required, and the chemicals that are used in the tanneries and dyeing factories are increasingly polluting precious water resources.
The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been helping to improve social and environmental standards in Bangladesh’s textile industry since 2005. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and with funding from the European Union (EU), GIZ has already trained around 30,000 managers and staff on issues relating to fair pay, fire safety and the safe handling of chemicals. By means of the "Factory Improvement Programme", more than 1,000 businesses have been able to significantly improve their working conditions. Moreover, collaboration with ILO has led to the training of 310 inspectors. Already over 2,000 inspections have been carried out to check that businesses are adhering to working standards.
GIZ has also provided training for 70 experts who advise factories and staff on issues relating to environmental protection. Three hundred businesses (including 50 tanneries) have been able to significantly improve their environmental standards after receiving such advice – for example, by ensuring proper wastewater management and reducing energy consumption. Because the textile industry in Bangladesh also provides work for people with disabilities, a special advisory centre for these workers was set up. More than 300 people have already benefited from its services, and 150 factories are now working on redesigning their premises to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
As women account for seven out of 10 workers in the textile industry in Bangladesh, the project has set up around 20 women’s cafés where female workers can meet and exchange views with one another. More than 250,000 women have learned about workers’ rights through training courses and theatrical performances featuring games, posters and films.
The women’s cafés also offer legal advice to users. For example, seamstress Noor Nahar only found out at one of the women’s cafés what minimum wage she was actually entitled to – and was dismissed when she asked to be paid this wage. With the help of the legal advisors in the women’s café, Nahar successfully fought to keep her job. Not only was she reinstated with a better wage – the minimum wage was then also introduced for all the other female workers. Noor Nahar is now one of more than 20,000 women who advise their colleagues on their rights and the minimum wage levels that are in force.
Many different parties need to be involved if standards are to be successfully put in place throughout the entire supply chain in clothing production. In Bangladesh GIZ is working with representatives from the state, the private sector and civil society to ensure that all actors take responsibility for shaping the desired economic growth in a sustainable way.
Building on the lessons learned in Bangladesh, the federal enterprise is also working in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Pakistan. China is also on board as a strategic partner. As an investor, China plays a key role in implementing sustainability standards, especially in the emerging clothing industries in Cambodia and Myanmar.
Last update: April 2018