In Bangladesh, the Solidarity Center aims to advance worker rights and support its partners in the garment industry and in seafood processing. Strong unions capable of protecting worker rights can ensure safe and productive workplaces and constructive labor-management relations, enabling Bangladesh’s overall economy to strengthen and flourish.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with roughly 166 million people living in an area the size of Wisconsin.  Its 78-million-member workforce is primarily made up of farmers—tea and rice are two important crops. Some 4 million workers, mostly women, are employed in 5,000 ready-made garment factories. Up to 1 million workers are part of Bangladesh’s burgeoning seafood processing industry.

In November 2012, a devastating fire at the Tazreen factory killed at least 112 workers and injured many others. Since then, dozens of workers have been killed and hundreds more injured in fire incidents. In April 2013, a commercial building, Rana Plaza, housing four garment factories, collapsed from severe structural instability (resulting from numerous building code violations). The disaster, the worst in the history of the international garment industry, killed more than 1,100 workers and injured thousands more. Workers at these factories did not have a union and were threatened with the loss of pay if they refused to return to work, even though they worried about safety conditions.

In June 2013, the U.S. government suspended its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) agreement with Bangladesh based on chronic and severe labor rights violations. Since then, the Bangladeshi government has made some positive moves, including allowing unions to register. Yet workers still report that employers harass them, verbally and physically abuse them and sometimes fire them when they try to form a union. Union organizers have been attacked and beaten while talking with garment workers.

In addition, garment workers and other industrial workers in Bangladesh’s export-processing zones are subject to a different, much weaker set of labor laws than workers in the rest of the country which do not meet international standards for freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.

Following the Rana Plaza tragedy, more than 150 corporate brands, mostly European, have signed on to the Bangladesh Accord on Building and Fire Safety which covers more than 1,600 factories in Bangladesh. Negotiated in 2013, the five-year Accord is set apart from all other previous safety agreements because it is enforceable. It provides legally binding assurance that the commitments to inspect and improve garment factories will be carried out and it ensures unions are a key part of the proces