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Preventing exploitation of women in Bangladesh garment industry

Project developing gender policy and accountability measures to prevent exploitation in the Bangladesh garment sector

Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of readymade garments in the world. The garment sector in Bangladesh supplies more than 80 per cent of their goods to retailers based in countries in the Global North, mainly the EU, North America, the UK and Australia. The sector employs close to five million workers, earning the lowest wages of any garment workers in the world.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, media and civil society reports have highlighted that many big retailers have cancelled their orders and delayed payments for orders already delivered for estimated 1,200 factories, leaving around 2.8 million workers, mostly women, at risk of being laid off without pay. To meet orders that were still on the books, many workers were forced to continue to work through the pandemic, leaving them at risk of catching the Coronavirus.

A research team led by the University of Aberdeen, in collaboration with University of Dhaka and Traidcraft Exchange, undertook a project to investigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women workers in the garment industry in Bangladesh.

The research analysed the impact of the pandemic on women workers, identify gender policy and regulatory gaps for preventing exploitation, and makes research-informed recommendations for post-Covid gender policy measures to prevent modern slavery within the garment sector.

It also focuses on redeveloping corporate accountability measures in relation to the rights of women workers and mechanisms to eliminate modern slavery from a gender perspective, including creating a sustainable social safety net within the global clothing supply chains operating in Bangladesh.

The team surveyed compliance auditors, and interview workers, key stakeholders and gender policy actors within the garment sector in Bangladesh.

The project’s ultimate aim is to provide practical recommendations for the governments and the garment industry in Bangladesh, in the UK and globally, to ensure that factories in Bangladesh are gender-friendly workplaces; that the terms and conditions of employment meet international standards and garment factory workers no longer face exploitative practices.

This project was funded as part of the Modern Slavery PEC call for research on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on modern slavery.

Project team: Prof Muhammad Azizul Islam, Prof Pamela Abbott, Dr Shamima Haque, University of Aberdeen; Prof Salma Akhter, University of Dhaka; Fiona Gooch, Traidcraft Exchange.