Swedish Ambassador to Bangladesh, Johan Frisell explains the launch of a “Global Deal” in Bangladesh where the government, international fashion brands and local industries have implemented a rigorous programme to ensure modern safety and security standards. International partners have joined in.

The collapse of a clothes factory outside Dhaka in April 2013, resulting in more than 1100 dead employees, revealed serious deficiencies in work place conditions in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi government, international fashion brands and local industries have since implemented a rigorous programme to ensure modern safety and security standards. International partners have joined in.

But an improved physical working environment only meets some of the needs that have been exposed. When the Swedish government adopted a new development strategy for Bangladesh a year ago, a new objective was added: to support better industrial relations. The idea is simple – at a work place where the management and the employees have a functioning relationship and faithful dialogue on all aspects of the work, you can avoid accidents, improve workers conditions, ensure labour rights, handle conflicts and increase production output. This goes hand in hand with the Swedish Prime Minister Löfven’s initiative on a “Global Deal”, launched earlier this year.

Over the last months, a project has been elaborated by the International Labour Organization along these lines and Sida will be the main funder. It will run over five years and the Swedish contribution will be 45 million SEK. In the margins of this year’s UN General Assembly, Bangladesh, Sweden and ILO signed an agreement on the cooperation on this project. Prime Minister Löfven attended the event.

The project seeks to enhance labour relations through improved dialogue between employers and workers, particularly at the workplace level. Conciliation and arbitration mechanisms will be developed into a more credible, trusted and transparent system. The initiative will also work to build the capacity of workers and employers to engage in social dialogue and collective bargaining and to make effective use of the dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms. Given the large presence of women in the work force of this sector, womens’ interests and requirements will be especially catered for. The Swedish fashion brand H&M will be associated to the project to work with factory owners. The Swedish trade union IF Metall and the global trade union IndustriAll will engage with Bangladeshi trade unions. This multi-stakeholder approach will enhance results substantially.

Harmonious industrial relations in the garment sector in Bangladesh will increase the efficiency of the factories, create conditions for decent work and growth of this sector which more than any other sector in Bangladesh pulls poor women into the formal work force. We hope that the project at the same time may reduce poverty, emancipate women and ensure labour rights.