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Social protection in action in Bangladesh

20 October, 2022IndustriALL Global Union and the UK Local Authority Pension Fund Forum co-hosted a discussion on the recently launched Employment Injury Scheme (EIS) in Bangladesh, which covers the country’s four million garment workers.

Social protection is a recognized fundamental human right and could include sick pay, unemployment benefit and injury insurance. The pandemic brought home the precariousness of the garment industry’s production model, as millions of workers in countries with no safety net were left without pay as the industry came to an abrupt halt.

The EIS, which involves the ILO, the government, brands, workers and employers, is a social protection scheme including compensation for medical treatment and rehabilitation services, as well as income loss caused by occupational injuries and disease. It’s a pilot project which will initially run for three years, with seven brands and around 150 garment factories participating.
The webinar on 18 October, aimed primarily at institutional investors interested in working towards a more sustainable garment industry built on respect for workers’ fundamental rights, explored why garment and textile brands participate, their role in funding it and the need for their continued involvement in the development of sustainable employment injury insurance.

“The non-payment of wages due to cancellation of orders during the pandemic led to deepening poverty for millions of global supply chain workers because of a fundamental lack of social protection. In several cases, this triggered large-scale protests and brought not only operational, legal and financial risks for sourcing brands, but also reputational damage for some due to their being accused of wage theft,“

said capital stewardship advisor Liz Umlas.
Anne Marie La Rosa from the ILO stressed that this important pilot is a vehicle to bring change to the garment industry.

“The brands have a big footprint in Bangladesh. If we can get the model to work and get everyone around the table – government, unions, the industry – this can be expanded to other countries.”

Garment brands H&M and Primark participated on the panel and gave their views on why they decided to develop and support the pilot. In their comments, H&M and Primark called on other brands to participate in the EIS, and noted that while environmental issues seem to be on investors' radar, social issues are much less so, and social protection in particular is never raised by investors.

“This is an important first step in developing a strong social safety net for the workers, but more brands need to join to make the pilot sustainable. It is important that we share the responsibility for a sustainable garment industry,”

said Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL textile and garment director.

Participating brands to date are Amer Sports, Bestseller, Fast Retailing, the H&M Group, KiK, Primark and Tchibo. In a letter sent out earlier this month, IndustriALL is calling on more than 40 brands sourcing from Bangladesh to support the scheme.

The webinar is part of IndustriALL’s larger initiative on social protection for garment workers, following on an earlier event in June, where workers from Thailand provided testimony about the impact of wage theft on their lives.