The horrific tragedy at Rana Plaza that killed over 1,138 garment workers and injured 2,500 others, reveals the true face of globalization. This senseless accident occurred because of greed and neglect following years of accidents, fires, and outright repression against trade union activists in the garment industry of Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) was founded in 2001 as a result of the garment workers organizing for better working conditions and wages. Kalpona Akter, Executive Director of the BCWS, began working as a garment worker when she was 12 years old; by the age of 15, she had formed the first union in her garment factory, only to be fired a year later. As a result, Kalpona and her colleagues formed the BCWS in order to advocate for labour rights and leadership training for garment workers.
In 2013, the SJF began funding the BCWS to train and organize garment workers in over 14 factories where they have concentrated their efforts. This project has been expanded by coordinating the efforts of 4 Canadian unions (PSAC, USW, CUPE and OSSTF) and pooling resources to support the BCWS.
The goal of the project is to strengthen workers' voices, especially those of women as they are the majority in the sector, to improve working conditions and increase the role of unions in the garment sector.
Specifically, the project aims to improve the working conditions in garment factories, ensure implementation of a new minimum wage as stated in the labour law amendment and ensure sustainable employment by supporting the role of unions.
Apparel workers in Bangladesh are the lowest paid in the world, they work 10 to 12 hours, sometimes 24-hour shifts without rest, overtime is almost always forced and workers are often under-paid or unpaid. They are exposed to verbal and physical abuse and often female workers are subjected to sexual harassment and abuse. Workers who speak out and organize for better conditions are fired, threatened and sometime beaten. In addition, workers work in unhealthy and dangerous conditions. Over the past five years, more than 2,000 workers died in fires and unsafe buildings.
BCWS seeks to address these issues by providing them with the necessary tools to demand respect for labour rights and safe working conditions.