Around 80% of garment workers in Bangladesh are women. The garment sector has seen massive growth in the past 5 years with a 106% rise in garment sector exports. This has created huge economic opportunities for women, who prior to this worked mainly in informal enterprise or domestic work.
However, it is clear that the economic opportunity presented by employment in the garment industry has not always translated to a better standard of living for workers and their families. UP! is not designed as an alternative to paying a living wage, but seeks to build upon the opportunities of employment and wage rises and translate them into an improved standard of living for workers. By increasing workers’ knowledge of essential finance and health skills, alongside building their communication and leadership skills, they can have more power over their own lives and improve their standard of living.
What is UP!
UP! is a training program built around 3 key themes: Finance, Leadership and Health.
The finance modules teach workers about income & expenditure, and how to gain more control over their family finances. This is particularly important for women, who often lack bargaining power in the home and can’t control financial decisions.
The health modules cover healthy eating, common diseases, medical treatment, time management and creating a good work/life balance. If workers’ are healthy, they can attend work more regularly and on time, reaping the benefits of a full salary and attendance bonuses. Furthermore, women strongly influence the behaviours of their families, so the knowledge they gain can have a positive impact for their entire families.
The leadership module improves communication skills, develops problem solving capabilities and empowers workers to see themselves as able to make positive changes in their homes, workplaces and communities.
What feedback have you received from workers so far?
Over 90 workers have opened bank accounts and many report savings of up to 400 Taka each week. One couple has even been able to pay back a 40,000 Taka loan. Workers have also reported being able to build better relationships with their supervisors and using this to more easily take days off.
We are currently carrying out a baseline study of UP! workers and will be gathering data to better measure project impact during the second and third semesters.
Where does it happen?
In 12 ‘worker cafes’ in Dhaka. They’re essentially small community hubs where workers can come, socialise, get advice on workplace issues and do the workshops. The fact that it takes place outside of the factories and away from the influence of factory owners and managers allows workers to feel at ease and learn in a familiar, comfortable setting.
Who runs the program?
Impactt have partnered with the Awaj foundation to create UP! Awaj are a Dhaka-based NGO working to end exploitative working practices and empower female workers. Awaj have 37,000 members and strong relationships with the worker communities in and around Dhaka. The program is generously supported by the C&A Foundation.
Why is UP! important?
UP! is important as it gives workers the skills and confidence to be the catalyst of change in their lives. Especially in Bangladesh, where there is such a high proportion of women in the industry who are vulnerable and largely marginalised. It is important that they are able to take control and gain power over their own lives.
Equally, workers that have greater power and a better standard of living are usually more productive and valuable in the workplace; this could help to secure a sustainable future for the garment industry in Bangladesh.
What is the aim of UP!
The final aim is to improve the standard of living of 6000 workers in the Bangladesh ready-made garments sector through training on essential life skills.
Ultimately, the lessons taught in UP! have potential impacts far beyond the workplace. Health education can reduce infant mortality, financial training can help women have a say in important financial decisions whilst leadership training is translated into greater involvement in local communities. UP! goes beyond the individual to create positive change on a broader level.
If you’d like to hear more about workers in Bangladesh, here’s what Rosey’s TEDx Dhaka talk on humanizing garment workers.
Our 2 degrees nomination and how to vote
UP! nominated in the Social Value category for the 2 degrees 2015 Champions Awards.
Voting is easy – you can do so by following this link:
You need to join 2degrees to vote (it’s free), but going the extra mile to recognise this great work is most definitely worth it.
Joe Sutcliffe is a Senior Project Officer at Impactt. Joe drives the project forward from London, in close coordination with Impactt colleagues and local partners in Bangladesh.