The Solidarity Center helped pass a new law that gives workers the right to organize trade unions in Export Processing Zones.
Bangladesh’s labor law does not apply to the 135,000 workers in the country’s six export processing zones. Employers took advantage of unions’ absence to flout wage and hour requirements, forcing the workers — mostly young women — to put in long hours for low pay in unsafe conditions.
In July 2004, under pressure from the U.S. government to comply with international labor standards, Bangladesh enacted limited worker protections. The new EPZ Labor Law allows workers to establish “welfare councils” that can negotiate with employers. Workers are using this opening to press for full freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.
“Even though the law is flawed,” said a labor activist who is helping workers navigate the welfare council structure, “EPZ workers are doing their best to get the most out of it."