A new report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) says garment industry workers in Bangladesh have been subjected to forced labour in the construction of garment factories, the process that forms the basis of most clothing and footwear sold in the global market.
The report says workers are not paid for the work they do and the conditions are not protected by law.
The ITUC’s report was released this week as the world prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of the Bangladesh garment factory fire, which claimed over 1,000 lives.
In March 2010, thousands of garment workers at a garment factory in the northern city of Sylhet, Bangladesh, staged a sit-in demanding better wages and working conditions.
The government responded by ordering the closure of the factory, which it said was in breach of international standards.
In the report, ITUC said it has been working with the government to ensure that garment workers in the Sylhet factory are protected against forced labour.
“It is not acceptable for Bangladesh to treat workers as second-class citizens, or to prevent them from exercising their basic rights,” said ITUC chief executive Joanna Robinson.
“In many instances, employers are not even required to provide the worker with enough food or shelter, and their treatment is so degrading that the worker will be unable to continue working in the factory,” she added.
The organisation called for the government’s investigation into the factory and said the workers it spoke to in the aftermath of the fire, who were not aware of the conditions they were being forced to endure, said they were treated as “second-class”.
It also called on the government and international organisations to launch an independent inquiry into the fire and ensure that workers are paid for their work.
The UN says there is a global shortage of garment production capacity, and that in some parts of the world, such as Bangladesh, where most garment workers are from, a large percentage of the garments are made in the field without workers.
It said it had found that some workers were being paid more than minimum wage for work that was performed by women.
According to the report released this month, there are now 2.6 million garment factory workers worldwide.
It said that the labour force participation rate in Bangladesh is about 60%, which is higher than the national average of 55%.
The ITU said it was seeking a minimum wage of $1.15 an hour for garment workers, which would equal $1,200 per month.
Robinson said the report highlighted the importance of ending factory closures, and calling for a full and independent investigation into why the factory fire occurred.
“We need to hold our governments and companies accountable for the deaths of thousands of workers in this industry,” she said.