Bangladesh warned of need for labour and social reforms - UNTuesday 19 November 2013 06.36
A United Nations report has said Bangladesh must improve conditions in its garment industry if it is to maintain economic growth.
The International Labour Organisation said it must also improve education and create more full-time jobs for young people to stop them from emigrating and draining the labour pool.
The report, two years in the making, was issued as Bangladesh suffers major labour unrest in the garment industry.
The sector, which is a major source of clothing for European and North American markets and the mainstay of its export-led growth, faces pressure from Western nations on factory conditions.
In April this year, the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment complex employing mainly women just outside Dhaka killed 1,129 people.
In 2012, 117 workers died in a factory blaze partly attributed to shoddy building construction.
ILO officials said the report was not originally linked to these disasters as it had been started back in 2011.
But they said it reflected a situation that led to the incidents.
The report said the rise of Bangladesh's ready-made garment industry over the past two decades accounts for 4.8% of global apparel exports, second only to China, from 0.6% in 1990.
"But unregulated industry growth has contributed to poor working conditions in the sector, which have acted as an obstacle to sustainable development," the ILO said.
Although the Bangladeshi government had taken some action to address health and safety issues in the past six months, poor conditions remained a challenge in many factories.
National estimates say poverty has declined, according to the report, but as of 2010 around 76% of the population of around 151 million were living on less than $2 a day, the highest in the region, according to the report.
In the garment sector, which employs about 3.6m people, wages were the lowest among Bangladesh's regional export competitors - well below what workers in Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam could earn.