It’s good to talk: social dialogue in action

by C&A Foundation on Sep 22, 2017

Delegates at Impactt’s ‘Worker First’ conference this month have the unique opportunity to hear first-hand from management and workers about how the presence of a mature factory union stabilised production at a time of crisis.

Despite being in the heart of Ashulia, Bangladesh - the site of widespread disruption, wild cat strikes, multiple factory closures and violence in the streets in January this year - the Natural Denim Factory maintained business operations and even improved the situation of their workers.

So how did Natural Denim’s workers end up with a better deal while management maintained their competitive advantage?

Sharing their story at the conference will be Nazma Akter, internationally recognised as one of Bangladesh’s most influential labour leaders, and Mohammad Matin, assistant general manager at Natural Denim

Nazma began work in a garment factory aged 11. At 12 years old, she took part in a protest to improve working conditions and was beaten by hired thugs. Some years later, Nazma left factory work to set up the Awaj Foundation, a grassroots NGO which advocates workers’ rights across Dhaka and Chittagong.

“I hope this will inspire the audience to greater efforts to empower workers and build a better future for supply chains.”

President of Sommiliito Garments Sramik Federation Nazma Akter

Since 2015, Awaj, Impactt, and the C&A Foundation have been partnering to deliver UP!,  a unique programme supporting more than 10,000 female garment workers to develop their awareness and skills in health, finance, leadership, negotiation and collective bargaining.

UP! training is delivered by Awaj trainers in evenings and weekends in 11 ‘worker cafes’ in communities across Dhaka. The training covers topics such as saving and managing money, communicating effectively with household members and colleagues/supervisors at work, plus developing critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. “So often European people hear a lot of depressing news about Bangladesh,” said Nazma.  “I am really looking forward to giving a positive view of what is possible when workers have the tools to negotiate." 

“So often European people hear a lot of depressing news about Bangladesh,” said Nazma.  “I am really looking forward to giving a positive view of what is possible when workers have the tools to negotiate.  Our UP! programme is helping us support workers to develop negotiation skills so that they can form and join trade unions and take control of their future.  I hope this will inspire the audience to greater efforts to empower workers and build a better future for supply chains.” Nazma will be sharing the story of how UP!’s negotiation training was successfully put into action in the union’s talks with Natural Denim’s management during the strike action and disruption in January. Fourteen demands for negotiation with management, including wages, maternity leave and better terms for termination of employment were submitted and 11 were accepted, recognising the benefits of a stronger workforce and stabilising production during the crisis.

Learn more about the conference: https://impacttlimited.com/20t...

About the panel speakers:

  • The Awaj Foundation was set up in 2003 by Nazma Akter, one of Bangladesh’s most respected and influential labour leaders. Nazma believes garment factories have the potential to empower women by giving them greater choice and opportunity, but is against exploitative and dangerous working practices and not treating women fairly. She is founder and president of Sommiliito Garments Sramik Federation, an affiliated union with 70,000 women garment workers as members. She is joined on the platform by Mohammad Matin, general manager of Natural Denim.