According to a survey by the Manusher Jonno Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, more than 72 per cent of garment workers in Dhaka and Gazipur have no letter of appointment. The situation is slightly better in Chittagong and Narayanganj: 59.49 per cent of workers do not have a contract in their hands. “All they can show, it’s their identity card,” said the report entitled “Garment Workers and Rights”. MJF investigated 770 workers in Dhaka, Chittagong, Gazipur and Narayanganj for the study, which was unveiled recently at the Spectra Convention Center in the capital. The sector employs nearly 40 lakh, 80 per cent of whom are women.

Having a contract is important for clothing workers when it comes to claiming, especially in cases of workplace accidents like the collapse of Rana Plaza and the Tazreen Fashions fire, said Mahmudul H Sumon, Associate Professor at Jahangirnagar University. Contacted, Siddiqur Rahman, President of the Apparel Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh, however, denied this allegation. “It is mandatory for all BGMEA and BKMEA factories to provide letters of appointment to their workers,” he added.

Sumon, a key member of the investigation, said the research was aimed at raising awareness about workers’ rights. According to the report, 82.9 per cent of workers in Chittagong and Narayanganj reported never having encountered sexual violence in factories. However, they shared many stories of harassment and violence in the factory during an open discussion. They reported “very bad” behaviour on the part of supervisors, Production Managers or General Managers and the use of statements explaining that any error was “normal” at work.

Female workers are more exposed to this kind of harassment, according to the report. “For delays in completing work or mistakes, insults are so difficult to pronounce that they are difficult to pronounce.” In general, workers did not mention such behavior as harassment. For them, something as intimidating as bodily violation or attempted rape was considered sexual harassment or violence, according to the report. The survey did not incorporate any quantifiable data on sexual harassment in Gazipur and Dhaka. MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said that those involved in hard work like the garment sector are generally neglected in Bangladesh. Although things are changing because of the wording of the Labour Act, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the sector develops properly, she said.