ILO in Asia and the Pacific, Better Work Programme
Five years ago the Rana Plaza tragedy turned the eyes of the world to Bangladesh and sparked a conversation about compliance, building safety and the empowerent of workers. BSR’s HERproject share four things they believe that brands, suppliers, and the development community can do to further the empowerment of women workers.
Five years ago, a building housing a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing 1,134 people. The deadliest structural failure in modern human history, the Rana Plaza tragedy turned the eyes of the world to Bangladesh and sparked a conversation about compliance and building safety.
Since then, brands and the development community have come to acknowledge that the workplace presents an opportunity not just to strengthen safety norms, but to address the needs of workers more broadly. Workplaces today are so much more than physical structures: They are places of opportunity for an income, and they are spaces for change.
This recognition has led to an increased focus on women workers and the particular challenges they face—and addressing these challenges begins with listening to women. BSR’s HERproject has been working in Bangladesh since 2010. By bringing together brands, their suppliers, and local partners, HERproject has been able to drive significant progress through workplace-based training and guidance. In total, HERproject has reached 240,000 women workers in 165 Bangladeshi factories since 2010. As one example of the impact this has had, HERproject has measured a 49 percent increase in Bangladesh in the number of women using sanitary pads during menstruation, which reduces the possibility of infection, across 10 factories.
However, major challenges remain. Almost 60 percent of female garment workers in Bangladesh have experienced some form of physical or verbal violence at work. Women workers also often lack basic health information and access to healthcare, which has a negative impact on their working and personal lives (only 45 percent of Bangladeshi women are using a modern contraceptive method). Occupational segregation and discriminatory social norms continue to ensure that women remain anchored in low-paying production jobs.
The Rana Plaza tragedy stimulated progress, with organizations working to address building infrastructure and give workers a voice. Through the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, brands have invested heavily in the modernization of supplier factories. As another example, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety has provided a helpline for workers to report issues anonymously.
We believe that brands, suppliers, and the development community can do four things to further the empowerment of women workers:
Women still make up the majority of the workforce in ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh. On the fifth anniversary of Rana Plaza, it is critical to ensure that the needs of women workers remain a key consideration for companies looking not just to ensure basic safety, but also to improve the welfare and well-being of their workers.
This article first appeared on BSR and is reproduced with permission.