22 June 2019 LESSONS Labour rights

UP! + Community-based, worker training programme, Bangladesh

Women enjoying playing a board game

Empower workers to be able to negotiate, bargain and claim their rights at home and in the workplace to improve working conditions

The objective was to improve the lives of workers in the Bangladesh readymade garment (RMG) sector by providing them with training on essential life-skills, individual and collective skills

  • Build worker knowledge, capacity and leadership skills through individual skills training
  • Participation of workers (especially women) in improving working conditions within individual factories and across the RMG sector


Partner: Awaj and Impactt

Investment: EUR 752,755 (C&A Foundation)

Duration: August 2016-2018

Geographic region: Bangladesh


While the most notable success is in behaviour change at the individual worker level, fewer changes have been reported in the collective outcomes at the factory level

Behaviour change relating to health and finance as well as improved confidence reflected in an increase in individual workers raising workplace related disputes  

Workers found life skills lessons very relevant and have incorporated them into their daily lives, resulting in positive outcomes at the individual level 

However, collective outcomes have been fewer and improvements in working conditions have been made in 74 of the 75 factories where trainees work benefitting approximately 16,500 workers 

Change in confidence and attitude led workers to be confident in communication with workplace management

Workers reported a sense of empowerment and increase in their self-confidence, with 94% workers stating they were confident in communicating with workplace management 

Workers’ abilities to negotiate, bargain and claim have increased. Two third of the workers reported to have individually raised a workplace related dispute. More than 7 % workers claimed that they got satisfactory responses from dispute raising processes 

Workers have negotiated on issues of leave, overtime, wages and festival bonuses

While the initiative is highly relevant to context and needs of the ready made garment sector workers in Bangladesh, the weakest changes in outcomes are related to women workers

While the initiative has a focus on women’s empowerment in both the domestic and work arena, the participation of women lessens (whilst still being in the majority) as workers progress through the different training levels  

Increase in participation of women as members of a channel, worker committee or forum is only about 10% versus approximately 20% for women. Further there is still a nagging fear among workers about freedom of association  

Four Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) signed by Awaj were reported to be an indirect outcome of the initiative, spurring positive changes at workplace

An indirect outcome of the initiative is that workers have signed collective bargaining agreements with employers. The CBAs included many issues covering annual wage increase of the workers, attendance bonus, festival bonus, maternity leave, annual leave, medical facilities, day care, prayer room, canteen, snacks allowance and night duty allowance 

The CBAs occurred as a result of the increased capacity of workers (trained through the initiative) to raise workplace related issues, negotiation and participation in basic unions 

The initiative has filled a gap in taking an integrated approach in capacity building in best practice negotiation techniques for worker rights alongside other complementary worker rights initiatives active in Bangladesh 

What did we learn?

C&A Foundation

To contribute towards systemic level change in the readymade garment sector, it is vital to strengthen the advocacy and communication activities. Increasing the number of workers’ upskilled on more complex negotiations and creation of unique worker-led bodies that are to resolve workplace issues with management will lead to improvement of working conditions and advocacy for sector-wide change 

Women workers face substantial challenges from community pressure and lack of familial support can affect the participation of women in worker rights programmes.  It is important to include ways to tackle patriarchal norms and sensitize family members for women to increasingly participate in similar worker rights initiatives and take a leading role in improving working conditions 

For Partners & Others

A unique element of the initiative was its incremental approach with building life skills at an individual level and eventually leading to the strengthening of negotiation skills at a collective level that has proven to be a key driver of the success of the initiative 

By holding worker trainings outside of factories in a neutral space, workers were able to benefit from a safe environment to share their thoughts and this also reduced bias towards access to workers from willing and compliant factories.  

Engaging management at factory level, through training and dialogue, is needed to increase mutual trust, cooperation and commitment between workers and management/employers to improve working conditions