A report published in the Bangladesh Pratidin newspaper alleging that ‘80% garment workers are victims of sexual harassment and abuse’ has come to the attention of BGMEA authorities and we feel it is of utmost importance to clarify our stance on the issue.
The report cited data from Action Aid and said 80% female garment workers suffer from sexual harassment and abuse at the workplace. BGMEA strongly rejects this unrealistic data, and feels this is harming the global image of the RMG industry. Our statement on this issue is as follows:
First of all, due to stringent regulations and compliance measures, it is simply not possible for 80% women in the industry to have faced sexual harassment and abuse. Every factory owner is fully following all compliance measures. Ever since the Rana Plaza incident, buyers are not only more deeply involved in the industry, but they are also more aware of safety regulations and labour rights. They are involving third party observers to inspect their factories. ILO is operating its ‘Better Work’ programme, and social dialogues are regularly held in the factories. There are security hotlines in every factory and almost every factory has a sexual harassment committee. BGMEA directly monitors every aspect of all labour issues, and also operates a labour arbitration cell. Tripartite committees are in place to investigate issues further. In such situation, such an allegation is completely unacceptable.
Secondly, the sample size of the report is 181 workers in an industry that hires over 3 million women. That is a grossly overgeneralized and skewed representation of the state of 3 million women.
Furthermore, BGMEA has already rolled out a mental health awareness program amongst 50 factories to start with. Authorities are going from door to door, in every factory and ensuring that the 5-member Anti Sexual Harassment committee is set up in every factory. Till date, we have visited 1,121 factories and the total number of committees formed is 453 in Dhaka & 17 in Chittagong.
In addition to the Action Aid data, there are a few more unsubstantiated allegations made by the report:
- Lack of maternity benefits in the industry
- Menstruating women are unable to tell their male counterparts that they need to use washrooms frequently
- Pregnant women are overworked
- Workers apparently injure their wrists while making cuffs for shirts
We are astonished at how such uncorroborated allegations can be made against an industry that employs 40 lakh workers, where a majority of the workers are women.
We believe such allegations not only tarnish the image of this major export sector, but they also harm the initiatives taken by our business owners and workers to increase and ensure workers’ safety.
BGMEA continues to uphold the highest standards in the garment industry with utmost responsibility and integrity. This is why we expect and hope that reports on the industry be done with professionalism and accountability.
We expect that a newspaper of the standard of the Bangladesh Pratidin would refrain from publishing reports like these in future, which do not have any opinions of any of the parties involved, and consequently has no validation whatsoever.