Bangladeshs garment industry is one of the main contributors to economic growth and is the countrys main export industry

Bangladesh's garment industry is one of the main contributors to economic growth and is the country's main export industry

US speciality apparel retailer Gap Inc has launched a three-year initiative to strengthen social dialogue and industrial relations in all factories that it sources from in Bangladesh.

The initiative will help build the capacity of factory management, compliance staff, union members and workplace committee members through training sessions on a range of topics including: freedom of association, collective bargaining, international labour standards, HR management, communications and negotiation techniques, as well as increase the understanding of the Bangladesh Labour Act.

A joint initiative with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the 'ILO Bangladesh Social Dialogue Project' will be implemented by the ILO's flagship Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) Programme and the ILO's Social Dialogue and Industrial Relations project.

The ILO and Gap have been working together since 2001 through the Better Work programme, which currently operates in eight countries. Gap has also partnered with the ILO to establish the Better Work Academy, a global project that supports companies to improve compliance in their supply chains.

"The effort to improve working conditions and labour standards is a shared responsibility," says Keith White, executive vice president of loss prevention and global sustainability at Gap Inc.

"We believe that improvements in social dialogue and industrial relations in Bangladesh has the potential to bring about real change for workers and employers alike, and that this project can contribute to the increased resilience and stability of Bangladesh's garment sector."

The garment industry is one of the main contributors to economic growth in Bangladesh and is the country's main export industry, comprising over 83% of total export revenue annually in 2017 and 2018. While notable progress in industrial relations has been made in recent years, both workers and employers in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector acknowledge challenges with regards to industrial relations, particularly at the company level.

According to the re:source by just-style strategic sourcing tool, Bangladesh is the world's second-largest ready-made garment exporter, and the textile and apparel sector contributes around 20% to its GDP. The sector employs around 20m people in the country.

"Gap Inc has been a long-standing partner in supporting factory facing programmes and we see this initiative as something that will hopefully create common learning on how to work together and expand similar programmes to other industry members," adds Tuomo Poutiainen, country director of ILO Bangladesh.