FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Bangladesh’s garment industry: Child labour and options
Posted:May 10, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
Four years ago, the deadly collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh pulled back the curtain on the employment practices of the global apparel industry.
 
We had hoped that the tragedy, which killed more than 1,100 workers – the deadliest accident in the industry’s history – would have brought meaningful change to a business long left to its own devices. Unfortunately, our research suggests the opposite has happened.
 
Media reports highlight the industry’s ongoing transgressions in Bangladesh, in particular the persistent reliance on child labor. In 2014, the British current-affairs program Exposure found evidence of children as young as 13 working in factories (often under harsh conditions) producing clothes for retailers in the United Kingdom.
 
Another undercover report by CBS News interviewed a 12-year-old girl who obtained a factory job using a certificate that falsified her age. And journalists from The Australian Women’s Weekly found girls as young as ten stitching clothes for top Australian brands.
 
While the media reports are troubling, they do not provide the entire picture. How many minors and adolescent girls are employed overall in factory jobs? More important, should they be barred from such jobs entirely?
 
Access to factories is restricted, and most employees will not disclose their actual age in the workplace. Indeed, journalists often mask their identity to document abuses. We took a different approach to assess the prevalence of underage workers in the garment industry, and to determine the sector’s value to Bangladeshi society.
 
As part of a recent nationwide census, we collected data from thousands of mothers and girls in Bangladesh’s three industrial districts with the highest concentration of ready-made garment factories (particularly those operating outside the Export Processing Zones): Ashulia, Gazipur, and Narayanganj.
 
The majority of the country’s female garment workers are concentrated in these areas. For comparison, we also carried out interviews in 58 urban areas where garment factories are not located. During our research, we identified 3,367 women and girls in the survey areas who reported being employed in the apparel industry.
 
Of them, 3% were between the ages of ten and 13, and 11% were 14-17 years old. Of the 861 girls below the age of 18 who were engaged in any kind of work, 28% said they worked in the garment industry.
 
Based on this evidence, it would appear that Bangladesh’s garment factories are using child labor (particularly that of young girls) more pervasively than even the most sensational media reports suggest. But for us, the real question is whether this practice should be eradicated or reformed.
 
Global brands relying on cheap labor have promised eradication. In 1992, about 10% of the garment sector’s workforce was below the age of 14. The following year, after the introduction of the Child Labor Deterrence Act in the United States – the so-called Harkin Bill, which barred US imports of products made with child labor – some 50,000 underage workers were removed from the factory floor. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association has pledged to phase out child labor and put children back in school – female school enrollment is typically lower in areas of high garment-industry employment than in other areas – upholding a 2010 law prohibiting employment of children under 14.
 
Clearly, our data suggest that the industry’s promises have yet to be fulfilled (though the government of Bangladesh claims that there currently is “no child labor” in garment processing units).
 
But that may not be entirely bad for underage female workers in Bangladesh. Thanks to pressure on garment manufacturers in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster, the industry’s minimum wage was increased 77%, to $68 a month.
 
This has made it more attractive for young girls to take up paid employment in the sector, which, paradoxically, does have some social benefit.
 
The majority of young girls who are working in Bangladesh are from poor families. Even in garment manufacturing areas, relatively better-off families rarely send their daughters to work in factories. Many young women still drop out of secondary school, even without the opportunity to engage in paid work.
 
That often leaves girls with one option: marriage. And in a country where minimum marriage-age laws are rarely implemented, earning a paycheck is the best way to avoid a premature wedding day. In such a situation, when many young girls must choose between factory work and marrying young, banning factory employment for girls under 18 would do more harm than good.
 
To help young girls avoid this choice, and to reduce the presence of minors and young girls in factories, requires greater emphasis on poverty reduction in rural areas.
 
Consumers around the world reject clothing stitched by child labor, which is commendable. Children under 18 should be in school and learning important life skills, not working long hours under difficult conditions.
 
But the lessons from the 2013 tragedy at Rana Plaza are more complicated than much of the international media make them out to be.
The Himalayan Times, May 11, 2017
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri, is a former top diplomat who retired as India's Permanent Representative at the United Nations. In his new political avatar, as an important minister in the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Puri told INDIA REVIEW & ANALYSIS that
 
read-more
Aimed at consolidating cooperation between the armed forces of India and Saudi Arabia and explore new avenues of defence cooperation, Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee and Naval Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, visited Saudi Arabia on from 4-8 February 2018, writes Anil Bhut
 
read-more
Campus placement season is here and the news is that graduates from the top campuses in India, especially the IITs, have received six figure pay packets and job offers in the US. However, looking beyond the top 200 engineering schools in India, pay packets are not looking too promising. The reason is the emergence of new engineering sc
 
read-more
Since the NDA government converted the ‘Look East’ Policy to the ‘Act East’ policy, there has been a greater sense of strategic engagement with the ASEAN, writes Gurjit Singh
 
read-more
The UN will be making contacts with Maldives leaders in response to the request by the opposition leaders for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to oversee the all-party talks proposed by that nation's President Abdulla Yameen, Guterres's Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Friday.
 
read-more
Bangladesh is disaster prone country because of its conical shape. The risk of climate change, drought, flood and natural disaster has increased uncertainty of agricultural production, which has also increased the level of food insecurity in the country, writes Minhazur Rahman Rezvi
 
read-more

The Indian government is undertaking a project to enhance and install infrastructures related to trade and customs along its northeastern frontier, that include trading points with Bhutan.

 
read-more
Column-image

Title: Do We Not Bleed?: Reflections of a 21-st Century Pakistani; Author: Mehr Tarar; Publisher: Aleph Book Company; Pages: 240; Price: Rs 599

 
Column-image

From antiquity, the Muslim faith has been plagued by the portrayal of Muslim men regularly misusing this perceived “right” to divorce their wives instantly by simply uttering “talaq” thrice.

 
Column-image

'Another South Asia!' edited by Dev Nath Pathak makes a critical engagement with the questions about South Asia: What is South Asia? How can one pin down the idea of regionalism in South Asia wherein inter-state relations are often char...

 
Column-image

Book: A Time of Madness; Author: Salman Rashid; Publisher: Aleph; Price: Rs 299; Pages: 127

 
Column-image

Book: Why I Am A Hindu; Author: Shashi Tharoor; Publisher: Aleph Book Company; Pages: 302; Price: Rs 699