Improving Working Conditions in the Ready-Made Garment Industry
What are the issues at stake
Sixty million workers across the developing world rely on the garment industry for their livelihoods. Over 80 per cent are women and garment work is their point of entry into the job market. Asia alone accounts for 70 per cent of world clothing and textile exports.
While factories are a valuable source of jobs and can offer opportunities for workers and their families to earn their own income, the sector is still characterized by high volatility, low predictability and generally low profit margins. Production is generally subcontracted to suppliers in different countries, leading to fierce competition that brings costs down. Additionally, the sector remains among the most labour-intensive, despite advances in technology and workplace practices.
As the global garment industry is likely to be a critical engine for social and economic development in the coming years, it is important to strengthen labour law enforcement mechanisms, so as to improve working and employment conditions, including minimum wages, and enhance occupational safety and health in the RMG sector.
The peculiarities of the RMG sector, characterized by recurrent industrial accidents in Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries, have led to a global commitment and measures not only to improve safety, but to make safety and decent working conditions the factor that gives major textile industries their competitive advantage. There is now a strong conviction that business cannot continue as usual and that fundamental changes relating to safety, inspection and compliance need to be made if the lives of RMG workers are to be safeguarded and the confidence of global buyers retained.
‘A Ready-Made Garment industry that is safe and compliant’
Building on its unique multi-disciplinary expertise, the ITCILO has developed a comprehensive capacity-building programme to support governments and other national stakeholders in improving working conditions and rights at work in the RMG industry. The programme proposes an integrated approach, based on the decent work dimensions and encompassing interventions at the macro, meso, micro and meta levels, which includes legislation, policies, systems, structures, institutions, factories and individuals.
Integrated means that better working conditions cannot be achieved without a better legislative environment and upgraded labour inspection services. It means that fundamental enhancements of safety, labour inspection and compliance must be matched by similar improvements in workers’ rights. It means helping workers and their representatives to exercise their rights and improve labour/management cooperation at the enterprise level. It involves the creation of an enabling environment for harmonious industrial relations and sound social dialogue, and an increased capacity for cooperation, collective bargaining and negotiation, particularly at workplace level. Going beyond labour inspection, it means fostering a culture of compliance in order to improve working conditions and occupational safety and health, and reinforcing the skills of workers, supervisors and managers.
The ITCILO provides the most complete, modular and flexible capacity-building package for the RMG sector, with great potential for customization.
Based on a modular approach, the ITCILO’s ‘Pack Programme’ is structured around four complementary components: i) Promotion of fundamental principles and rights at work; ii) Strengthening social dialogue; iii) Re-engineering labour inspection; and iv) Enhancing health and safety systems. The Pack Programme also offers scope for the inclusion of further themes/topics and competencies, in order to respond to the specific and diversified training needs of the RMG sector.
Each of the four components (clusters) includes four or five recommended training modules, forming a complete learning track.
The Pack Programme is flexible and offers different options for packaging the training to meet the priority needs of a country / institution and the beneficiary group(s) targeted. The training can be tailored for tripartite or bipartite audiences, or for one specific target group.
Modules can be bundled into one large comprehensive training programme or drawn more selectively from one or more of the four components. Training modules can also be offered as stand-alone single events to meet specific needs and requirements.
In recognition of the fact that the majority of garment workers are women, special emphasis is placed on mainstreaming gender equality throughout the programme, with special capacity-building actions targeted at women at the association and enterprise levels.
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To whom is the Pack Programme addressed?
The Capacity-Building Pack Programme is designed for the immediate benefit of national ILO constituents:
- Ministries of Labour;
- National and sectoral workers’ organizations;
- National and sectoral employers’ organizations;
- Workers in the RMG sector.
More specifically, the training modules are tailored for:
- Labour inspectors;
- Senior officials and advisers from government institutions in charge of the planning, implementation and management of labour inspection and OSH at the national level;
- Workers’ and employers’ representatives involved in the policy-making process on labour inspection and OSH at the national level;
- Members and staff of national tripartite bodies and other social dialogue institutions;Personnel from institutions involved in promoting social dialogue (including academic research institutions and non-governmental organizations);Community leaders, civil society and other stakeholders.
A wide range of stakeholders in the global supply chain of the ready-made garment industry have an important role to play in the process of change and must be included in the capacity-development programme. These include international brands and retailers, which have a direct role in improving working conditions.
To address their specific needs, modules can be designed to supplement the clusters referred to above, with the aim of improving compliance with international labour standards and national laws and promoting competitiveness in global supply chains by enhancing enterprise-level economic and social performance as a basis for building socially responsible export strategies.
A pilot initiative was undertaken in Bangladesh from September 2014 to June 2017, where the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ITCILO) has been working to improve working conditions and to promote fundamental principles and rights at work.
The ITCILO’s interventions were framed within the ILO Programme “Improving Working Conditions in Ready - Made Garment (RMG) Industry” and two Projects: “Promoting Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in Bangladesh” and “ Promoting Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and Labour Relations in Export Oriented Industries in Bangladesh”.
The ITCILO was requested to deliver a set of institutional capacity – building service packages (for more information here the Final report of the initiative) for ILO constituents and other key partners in Bangladesh.
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