Fair Fashion

Bangladesh Adopts New Labor Law, Critics Argue Workers Still at Serious Risk: This is Fast Fashion


Back in January of this year, Eco-Chick covered the Bangladesh factory fire in Dhaka City where seven workers were killed — all women — and more than 15 injured. The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights reported that the workers were crushed as they tried to escape the burning floor, which is located on the second story of the building.

This incident came only two months after the Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 employees in Bangladesh.

Then again, in May of this year, we shared the very sad news that a Bangladeshi garment factory collapsed which killed (final count) 1,127 people. The factory employed about 5,000 people in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city.

The owner of the Rana Plaza building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, has been arrested after he appeared to be trying to flee across the border to India.

Last month, the U.S. dropped Bangladesh from a list of developing countries that receive preferential trade access, citing poor working conditions and a lack of labor rights in the country. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothing to the United States behind China.

Facing intense international pressure, Bangladeshi lawmakers amended the country’s labor law this week. Some labor groups, including Human Rights Watch, said the new law doesn’t do enough to protect garment workers.

In a piece published on the Human Rights Watch website, the group argues the new amendments fall short for the following reasons:

  • At least 30 percent of the workers in an establishment, which can comprise many factories, would still have to join a union for the government to register it.
  • Unions will be allowed to select their leaders only from workers at the establishment. This will enable employers to force out union leaders by firing them for an ostensibly non-union-related reason, a common practice globally. Workers in export processing zones, which cover a large percentage of Bangladesh’s work force, would remain legally unable to form trade unions.
  • The amended law adds more sectors, including non-profit education and training facilities, as well as “hospitals, clinics and diagnostic centers,” to a lengthy list of types of employment in which workers are not permitted to form unions.
  • The right to strike will remain burdened by a cumbersome bureaucratic process and the requirement that two-thirds of the union’s membership would have to vote for a strike, a small improvement over the previous requirement of three-quarters of the membership.
  • The government will be able to stop a strike if it decides it would cause “serious hardship to the community” or is “prejudicial to the national interest,” terms that are not defined but can easily be misused.
  • Discriminatory anti-strike provisions in the law favor foreign investors by prohibiting strikes in any establishment during the first three years of operation if it is “owned by foreigners or is established in collaboration with foreigners.”
  • The amended law also seeks to redirect attention to so-called “Participation Committees” and “Safety Committees,” largely powerless bodies made up of management and workers. Workers at non-union workplaces would directly elect their representatives to Participation Committees and Safety Committees, which would be created in factories with more than 50 workers. However, the role of these committees is not clearly defined. Both types of committees fulfill duties that should be handled by a union acting as the duly organized and elected representative of the workers.

Starre Vartan, our editor-in-chief, illustrated some of the issues at-hand in her piece published May, 2013:

“Due to rising labor costs in China (garment workers there have been exploited over the last decades, and have been working together to demand better and fairer working conditions), Bangladesh is the latest country in which workers are underpaid and overworked to produce clothing cheaply. Making just $37-$90 a month, its those incredibly low wages that are part of the reason we can buy clothing more cheaply in 2013 than in 1995, despite all other costs (materials, transportation, rents) having risen. And low pay isn’t the only way these companies save money — slacking on health and safety requirements are another. And cutting corners when it comes to safety always ends in tragedy.

Organic food and non-toxic body care products have grown in popularity year after year and are booming businesses. But clothing that is less harmful to people and the planet has been a tougher sell, since it’s not something you ingest or put on the skin and gets absorbed. It’s a business that ultimately doesn’t affect the purchaser, but it does affect communities that are often on the other side of the Earth.”

Eco-Chick readers, please consider purchasing this t-shirt that supports Bangladesh garment industry workers.

Lindsay has spent her career at the intersection of media and social change. In her role at Eco-Chick, Lindsay has established partnerships and campaigns with some of the world’s most-recognized companies committed to sustainability and CSR. She co-created the popular interview series “Heroines for the Planet” that features groundbreaking women who share courage and a deep passion for protecting people and the Earth. Lindsay is the Marketing and Sustainability Manager at Health-Ade Kombucha and previously served as Director of Communications at the social enterprise CBS EcoMedia. There she directed corporate advertising dollars to the nation’s most effective non-profits tackling urgent social issues in local communities and was awarded CBS Corporation’s prestigious Share-the-Vision award. She has written for Whole Living Magazine, Edible, Cottages & Gardens, From The Grapevine, EarthHour.org, Eco-Age.com, and for environmentalists Laura Turner Seydel and Susan Rockefeller. Lindsay holds a BS in Global Business Studies and Marketing from Manhattan College, and received the 2012 Honors Award at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.