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2015-02_dc

D+C Vol.42.2015:2 21 building dormitories or expanding health-care facilities. Hygienic conditions are terrible; there is no sanitation or safe drinking water. There is no child­ care. Young women must send their children to the countryside, to their mothers or sisters, meaning that babies cannot be breastfed and the mothers are depressed. There are not nearly enough good public schools. These are the things that need to be ad­ dressed for the workers. Who should address these problems? We don’t need outside pressure to pay a living wage or obtain foreign certifications! We need cooperation on an action plan to aid workers at the grassroots level. Lots of aid goes to Bangladesh, lots even to the garment sector – it should directly benefit the work­ ers by providing housing, dormitories, health care, sanitation and education for the children of garment workers. Our government cannot deal with these problems alone. The brands and the manufacturers should also contribute through their corporate social responsibility activities. These problems must be addressed in public-private partnerships. Please give an example. There is huge demand for childcare. Our labour law actually requires a factory with over 40 female workers to offer childcare. Today, many large and good factories have a childcare room with equip­ ment – so they pass the audits. But the truth is that they do not provide childcare. We need public-pri­ vate partnerships to solve this problem. The govern­ ment needs to enforce the law; the local and inter­ national companies need to provide the funds to run a childcare facility, either in the factory or in the community; and the labour unions that are active in the company need to monitor the situation and make sure it is actually happening. What is the situation for labour unions in the post-Rana Plaza environment? There has been some progress. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a far-reaching, historical agreement between companies and inter­ national and local labour unions, has resulted in the inspection of over 1,700 factories in Bangladesh. Local union members and solidarity activists often participated in the inspections, and they will con­ tinue to monitor the repairs. This approach is strengthening the position of the labour unions in the factories. Well over 200 factories have been unionised since Rana Plaza. This is a very significant positive change. Many workers now have some form of dialogue and collective bargaining with factory managers through the union people. This is a good sign. People have become more conscious of labour issues and realise that there needs to be dialogue between management and workers. However, we still have lots of problems. Some union leaders have lost their jobs, there has been abuse of union lead­ ers, and also false cases have been filed against them. You started work in a garment factory about 30 years ago and you have been a labour activist for the last 25 years. How has the situation for women garment workers changed over the decades? When I started working in the factory where my mother was also working, they treated the workers so badly! There was so much abuse of women – ver­ bal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse. This is no longer a major concern. There is also a lot less overtime now. Previously, nobody followed and respected the law. Seven days a week, working until midnight was common. Compared to that situation, we have improved a lot. The average garment worker now works 10 hours a day, six days a week. Most of the factories work 10 hours; sometimes it is 12 hours. 14 hours has become very rare. Today, maybe 70 % of the factories pay maternity leave and respect the needs of pregnant women. At the beginning, nobody did. Why have things improved? Because of increased workers’ awareness and legal support of the workers. Workers have raised their voice and demanded their rights. This is how things have changed. Today Bangladeshi women are very proud of their independence as working women, their ability to earn money and contribute to their family’s income and to the country’s economy. We need this industry, but we are also insisting that our rights as workers be respected. Böthling/Photography Nazma Akter is the founder and executive director of the AWAJ  Founda- tion, which defends workers’ rights in Bangladesh. “Awaj” means “voice” in Bengali. [email protected] http://AWAJ.info Work conditions are tough, but improving.

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