Prior to the final phase-out of the of the Multi Fiber Agreement (MFA) on 31 st December 2004 , Bangladesh ‘s Ready Made Garments (RMG) industry were predicted a crisis of considerable magnitude. Bangladesh will lose much of the guaranteed market access that has fostered and sustained the industry in the context of highly competitive global apparel markets. The country’s competitiveness in comparison to other garment exporting nations was relatively low; while its factories offer importers low cost production, they are seen as lacking in the crucial areas of productivity, quality, and relative turnaround time compared to major competitors like China. Bangladesh ‘s position in the global market has also been impacted by such agreements as the United States Trade and Development Act 2000, which gave preferential trade access to 35 least developed countries (LDCs), as well as other bilateral trade agreements signed between major importing countries and other exporting nations. The overall impact of these changes on Bangladesh will likely be severe, a worrying prospect for an industry that currently provides 76.6% of the country’s total export earnings (2002). As 2003 began, the warning signs of the crisis ahead were readily apparent, as 502 of a total of 3,696 factories had already closed, forcing 150,000 workers out of their jobs (source: BGMEA 2003).
The magnitude of the crisis in Bangladesh cannot be understood merely by analyzing cost figures and foreign exchange earnings. The challenges ahead will be most directly felt by the country’s garment workers; as of 2002, there were approximately 1.8 million workers in the industry, 80% of whom were women source: BGMEA). Most of the women in Bangladesh ‘s factories are young and single and have few alternative employment options. The women are highly dependent upon the wages they earn in the garment factories and they often provide crucial support to their families and communities. These workers are highly vulnerable and unfortunately their voices are often ignored in the conference rooms and legislative forums in which trade and industry policies are debated and finalized. In the coming months and years, it is crucial that policymakers both inside and outside of Bangladesh focus on the livelihood issues of these workers. Workers still in the industry need support in achieving proper working conditions in the face of competitive pressures and retrenched workers need assistance in finding alternative employment options and providing for their families and communities.
Given these circumstances, Nari Uddug Kendra (NUK) spearheaded the development of the Bangladesh Garment Workers Protection Alliance (BGWPA) on 5 December 2001 with 24 organizations including NGOs, trade unions, and garment workers organizations. These organizations have invested their time and resources to ensure that the rights of the workers are protected and their voices heard during discussions on solutions to the crisis in the RMG sector in both domestic and international forums.
Why this Alliance ?
Ninety per cent of the garment workers are young women who have few marketable skills and are predominantly migrants from the countryside. The wealth generated by the RMG industry was achieved due to the strength of their labor. In spite of their contributions to the building of the industry, they have little access to decision-making bodies at the government or corporate levels. In the coming years, garment workers will need ongoing advocacy in forums ranging from industry association meetings in Bangladesh to international gatherings including the next WTO Ministerial to be held in Cancun , Mexico , in September 2003. The BGWPA was formed to help provide that voice, directly and indirectly, and to mobilize government, businesses, trade unions, workers organizations, non-governmental organizations and communities to work together to protect and promote the rights of the garments workers, particularly in the light of the MFA phase-out in December 2004.
How this Alliance works?
BGWPA is a non-partisan affiliation of non-governmental organizations, trade unions, workers organizations and other groups as well as individuals and activists concerned with the plights of garment workers.
BGWPA works through a Secretariat based at NUK, and has eight sub-committees:
” Information and Research
” Local and International Communication
” Legal Rights and Compensation
” Employment Generation and Skills Training
” Social Mobilization
” Media Campaigning
In the coming months and years, the BGWPA intends to pursue both domestic and international advocacy. It will develop and carry out strategies to address the post-MFA era in Bangladesh and will foster relationships with other international alliances and organizations aimed at addressing the social impacts of global trade policies.
The goal of the Alliance is to give voice to garment workers concerns at a time of market uncertainties and to ensure that the garment workers situation and issues are taken into consideration in any solution to the crisis proposed by government and /or business in both domestic and international forums.
” To collect information about the plights of the garments industry and its workers, compile completed research work, identify priority areas for future research work and disseminate information through the media and other channels in order to support advocacy and awareness initiatives at both the national and international levels;
” To lobby and communicate the plights of the industry and its workers to the national government, the BGMEA and trade unions as well as to international trade bodies and organizations;
” To document a list of lay-off garment workers and lobby for compensation due to them to them as well as to provide legal aid support when and where necessary; ]
” To provide skills training to laid-off and retrenched garment workers to ensure their competitiveness outside the industry and to link them with other service providing
” To build public awareness about the crisis in the industry and the plights of workers and to motivate the community at large (through meetings, rallies, workshops, human chains, etc) to undertake appropriate measures to address the situation.
” A press conference was held on 7 February 2002 at the National Press Club to announce the launching of the Alliance . The conference outlined the Alliance program and urged other sectors to provide support to those in the garment industry and highlighted the need for protecting the existing markets of RMG goods as well as for creating new markets.
” A national roundtable on “Problems of Garments Workers and the Industry: Towards a Strategic Response” was held on 4 April 2002 , with the Commerce Minister attending as the chief guest. For the first time, the international trade rules, the history of the growth of the garments industry, and the effects and negative consequences of the impending crisis were presented before the government, civil society and business leaders. Possible solutions were discussed and a National Steering Committee was launched to monitor and follow-up on the recommendations.
” A press conference on “Overcoming the Impending Crisis in the RMG sector and Protecting the Rights of Garment Workers in the Wake of the Globalization Process” was held on 13 November 2002 . The conference received wide print and electronic media coverage.
” A workers rally was held on 22 November 2002 on how to overcome the impending crisis in the RMG sector and protect the rights of the workers.
” A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office on 24 November 2002 requesting measures for safeguarding the RMG sector and for providing employment to retrenched workers. The MOU demands included: the provision of financial support and training to workers; directives to factory owners and BGMEA to amend arrearages of back
” wages owed to laid-off workers; and the development of alternative employment options. The Prime Minister’s office forwarded the MOU to the Ministry of Industries on 28 November 2002 for necessary action.
” After intense lobbying efforts by the BGWPA, the Commerce Ministry, the BGMEA, and other related bodies to the Canadian Government, Bangladesh garments were granted duty- and quota-free access to Canada effective 1 January 2003 .
BGWPA works through a Secretariat based at NUK, and has eight sub-committees:
- Information and Research
- Local and International Communication
- Legal Rights and Compensation
- Employment Generation and Skill Training
- Social Mobilization
- Media Campaigning
- Funding and Management
- ActionAid Bangladesh
- Ain-O-Shalish Kendra (ASK)
- Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation (BGWF)
- Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS)
- Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies (BILS)
- Bangladesh Labor Research Foundation (BLRF)
- Bangladesh Labor Welfare Foundation (BLF)
- Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers Association (BNWLA)
- Bangladesh Trade Union Center (BTUC)
- Coalition for the Urban Poor (CUP)
- INCIDIN Bangladesh
- Jatio Garment Sramic Jote
- Kormojibi Nari
- Micro Industries Development (MIDAS)
- Nari Uddug Kendra (NUK)
- Unity Trough Population Services (UTPS)
- Bangladesh Textile & Garment Workers League (BTGWL)
- Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF)
- Oxfam GB