Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2018
Compliance with labor laws is a major component of effectively and efficiently conducting business in the garment industry. Although there are a variety of areas, such as wage and hour compliance and disability compliance, human rights compliance issues are becoming increasingly prominent in recent times—especially in Bangladesh. The garment industry in Bangladesh came under international scrutiny in 2013 after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, ultimately killing over 1,100 workers. This incident is considered to be one of the worst industrial disasters to ever occur and exposed many serious hazards that were occurring in Bangladeshi factories. Subsequently, some of the largest brands shifted to implement better conditions for workers.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ensured that compliance regulations would be taken seriously after publicly stating that “we are highly committed to ensuring compliance with regard to labor rights, workplace safety and environmental standards in the industry.” It became apparent this past December that this issue was still prominent after thousands of factory workers began to protest in regards to their work, specifically the harsh conditions and the exceptionally low wages. The government and factory owners fear that this phenomenon will negatively impact investor profits. Large brands have reached out to the Bangladeshi government to work towards protecting workers and addressing the workers’ concerns.
Results of the Protests
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association responded to the strike by closing doors off to workers at fifty-five factories. Approximately 1,600 workers were fired due to their protest efforts, and about 249 workers, including fourteen labor activists, were arrested under the Special Powers Act which aims to quash “threats to state security.” Many have even gone into hiding to prevent being found in house raids. Many workers are cautious to speak out to the media following the brutal murder of a garment union leader in April 2012. Activists allege that these groups are trying to instil fear into innocent people to prevent further trouble.
Aftermath and the Future
Bangladesh exports billions of dollars’ worth of clothes every year due to its efficient factories. However, these factories have also been criticized for being overcrowded with limited oversight and a government that fails to push for better working conditions and represses workers’ efforts to do so. Due to the lack of contribution from the government, large retailers have taken action against these happenings and have created two coalitions dedicated to improving the lives of workers and better adhering to compliance regulations. Their dedication is also demonstrated through their efforts in calling the government to form a new wage board for the garment workers as the existing wage board has proven to be ineffective.
Although the efforts of large retailers should be applauded, it does not seem like large-scale improvements in the industry will be taking place any time soon. In order for this to happen, a cultural shift needs to occur where the Bangladeshi government genuinely pushes for improvement of working conditions and places greater importance on the quality of life of its citizens over the speed of producing and exporting garments. The situation in Bangladesh exemplifies the need for strict compliance regulations in the garment industry.