• The 'Power of the voice' report, published by Swedish non-profit Swedwatch explores the perspectives of workers and buyers in the Bangladeshi garment sector.
  • It found that real improvements remain to be seen to strengthen the voices of workers through social dialogue.
"Companies sourcing from Bangladesh have a responsibility to ensure their business operations do not have negative impacts on human rights”

"Companies sourcing from Bangladesh have a responsibility to ensure their business operations do not have negative impacts on human rights”

Despite years of efforts to strengthen the voices of workers in the Bangladeshi garment sector through social dialogue, real improvements remain to be seen, a new report has found.

The 'Power of the voice' report, published by Swedish non-profit Swedwatch and conducted in cooperation with Fair Action, explores the perspectives of workers and buyers in the Bangladeshi garment sector regarding the 'social dialogue' that was supposed to have been established post-Rana Plaza.

Based on a survey with 15 Swedish clothing and home textile companies sourcing from Bangladesh, the report makes recommendations based on its findings, with the aim of providing a basis for discussion on pivotal issues such as freedom of association, anti-union policy making, due diligence and transparency.

Companies that took part in the study say they address these risks through auditing, capacity-building and through building long-term relationships with suppliers. Many also state they have experienced an increased knowledge regarding labour rights among their suppliers during recent years. However, many still perceive that there is widespread scepticism towards trade unions among suppliers and there are few trade unions and collective bargaining agreements in place.

In the absence of trade unions, the survey found that most of the buyers have instead relied on factory-level worker participation committees, legally required by the Bangladeshi Government. However, as the report points out, these committees are often controlled by factory management and do not give workers the legal mandate to bargain collectively.

"Companies sourcing from Bangladesh, as well as local suppliers, have a responsibility to ensure that their business operations do not have negative impacts on human rights," Swedwatch says. "The report encourages companies to investigate if their suppliers have anti-union policies and practices, and if so, to take appropriate measures to prevent this. The report also recommends that companies improve the situation for workers through more sustainable purchasing practices, such as economic incentives for suppliers with collective bargaining agreements."

Recommendations include:

  • Assess and respond to potential impacts of own purchasing practices, on suppliers' compliance with freedom of association and collective bargaining, in accordance with the OECD Due Diligence guidelines for Garment and Footwear Supply Chain.
  • Identify and prevent anti-union policies and practices in supplier factories in accordance with the International Trade Union Confederation's guidance on the UN Guiding Principles and Freedom of Association and OECD Due Diligence guidelines for Garment and Footwear Supply Chain.
  • Use collective bargaining agreements as a basis for creating incentives for suppliers, for example by including a measurable CBA premium in unit prices. Continue sourcing from unionised facilities, and when expanding production, give preference to unionised locations.
  • Promote social dialogue and collective bargaining at national level, including explicit support for enabling legal reforms that remove barriers for increased unionisation. In accordance with the OECD Due Diligence guidelines for Garment and Footwear Supply Chain, directly engage with union federations at sectoral and global level, for example through global framework agreements as well as collaborate with other buyers to increase leverage with suppliers.
  • Regularly publish a searchable list of all sites that manufacture the company's products and audit results for each factory. The list should include the full names of all authorised production units and processing facilities, the site addresses, the parent company of the business at the site, type of products made and worker numbers at each site.

The companies included in the survey have been offered to comment on the report and its findings.