Garment industry in Bangladesh problems and solutions

Problems and solutions

As of 2011, Bangladesh was the second-largest manufacturer of readymade garments (RMG) after China and will be the largest manufacturer of readymade garments in the next five years. In 2006, Bangladesh was the sixth-largest exporter in the world after China, the EU, Hong Kong, Turkey, and India. In 2006, Bangladesh's share in global garment exports was 2.8%. The United States was the largest single market with exports of US$ 3.23 billion, up 30% from 2007. Today, the United States remains the largest market for woven garments in Bangladesh, at US$ 2.42 billion, accounting for 47% of Bangladesh's total woven exports. The European Union remains the largest regional destination - Bangladesh exports US$ 5.36 billion worth of clothing; 50% of their total garment exports. Bangladeshi knitwear accounted for 61% of the European Union's exports of US $ 3.36 billion.


There are some other problems which are associated as below-

Working Environment problems

Garment workers have protested their low wages. The first protests began in 2006, and since then, there have been periodic demonstrations by workers. This has forced the government to raise the minimum wage for workers. Many textile mills in Bangladesh often compromise on the health and safety of workers because of the pressure from ordering companies to create strict deadlines. Management will often push workers to make sure an order is met. This creates a problem because there is almost no way for workers to file a complaint. Almost none of the factories have any kind of human resources department and local officials often turn a blind eye to violations. Moreover, most of these workers are poor women. Without a structure like formal unions, many do not have the ability to speak unjustly due to a lack of knowledge or fear of losing economic security.

Health and safety problems

After more than a century of industrial experience and the development of national regulations and international conventions, Bangladeshi workers continue to lose their health and lives as they contribute to national prosperity. In the case of women workers, the situation is even worse. Female workers face a variety of occupational health risks such as work environment risks, physical hazards, and mental hazards. Risks to the work environment include long working hours, absence of vacation opportunities, overcrowded and overcrowded working conditions, lack of health facilities and safety measures, lack of facilities for workers, and lack of safe drinking water. On the other hand, physical hazards include exposure to toxic agents, awkward postures, and repetitive motion. Exposure to sexual, verbal, and emotional harassment and violence in their workplace poses some common mental health risks. These hazards not only affect the mental and physical well-being of women workers but also the quality and productivity of the workforce across the country.

Ergonomic problems

Musculoskeletal disorders have been identified as an important concern among garment workers. These complaints relate to highly repetitive movements, awkward postures in the sitting position, repetitive hand and arm movements, working long hours without adequate breaks, and poorly designed workstations. These risk factors cause adverse health consequences for workers such as neck, back, arm, shoulder, and lower limb muscle complaints. Most of the female workers in the garment factory work as sewing operators, sewing operator helpers, cutting workers, and finishing workers. Sewing machine operators usually work in a sitting position for a long time, including forwarding and flexing the head, neck, and torso. This results in pressure on the neck and back and eventually pain. A case study conducted by Habib M, one of the leading sewing machine operators in Bangladesh found that the high risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder is related to the condition of sitting for 6 to 7 hours more than 30° with the neck bent. In addition, sitting in a flexed position facing forward causes the lumbar spine to flatten which leads to unbalanced pressure on the disc and steady contraction of the back extension muscles. A flattened lumbar spine can cause back fatigue, disc degeneration, and back injury. However, it is not just about the posture, the design of the workstation can exacerbate the problem. Sarder and colleagues noticed that the garment factory seats had no rear part, which allowed a short break to prevent the upper body from bending. Also, many seats are stiff and wooden, without cushions to prevent compression in the area of ​​ischemic tuberculosis. Although some factories have sewing machine tables with a 70-80 cm height adjustable option, workers rarely or never adjust them because it takes 10 to 15 minutes to adjust them.

Bleaching agents and azo dyes problems

There is a wide range of chemicals used in textile production for dyeing and printing, which can be exposed by these workers. These include chemicals but are not limited to bleaching agents and azo dyes. Azo dyes, such as aniline and benzidine, account for more than 50% of the dyes produced each year as of 2006. This was due to their high stability in light and washing and their resistance to microbial activity. The toxic effects of these dyes include hypersensitivity and irritating effects such as contact dermatitis and asthma, as well as exposure-related concerns for harmful diseases such as bladder, nose, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectal, nasopharyngeal, and lung cancer. Studies have shown that changes in neutrophil function and sensitivity may have hypersensitivity effects, which contribute to chronic inflammatory diseases of the skin and respiratory tract. Once this sensitivity occurs, a person becomes more susceptible to the development of allergic disease in subsequent contact with the offending agent. Exposure to these chemicals usually occurs through direct contact with the skin or through the inhalation of dye particles.

Sandblasting problems

Sandblasting is a technique used on denim that gives the garment a dilapidated look. The sand that is used often consists of 95% quartz and 15% feldspar. Silicosis is an often fatal lung disease that comes in contact with silica dust in the respiratory tract. Silicosis often leads to more serious diseases of the lungs such as; Lung cancer, bronchitis, and tuberculosis. In 2003, Turkish investigators conducted a case study in the Journal of Occupational Health in five sandblasting factories. They found that workers inside the poorly ventilated factory were exposed to respiratory silica dust at 20 times the recommended safety level. This case study follows a sample of sandblasters from these factories, with an average age of 23 years and an employment period of three years. By the time the study was completed, one-third of the sandblasters had lab-confirmed silicosis and two workers had died during the study.

Potassium permanganate problems

Another popular chemical involved in the alternative sandblasting technique is potassium permanganate. It is an odorless, purple, sand-like oxidizing agent. It is used to lighten the color of denim in certain areas. There are multiple exposure routes for potassium permanganate to cause severe adverse reactions in the worker, such as skin contact, eye contact, breathing, and feeding. When potassium permanganate comes in contact with the skin, it can cause irritation, deep burns, rashes, and even skin death. If potassium permanganate is exposed to the eyes, severe irritation, as well as permanent damage to the eyes, is possible. Respiration of potassium permanganate can irritate the respiratory tract and can even lead to chronic lung diseases such as asthma, silicosis, and pulmonary edema. Taking potassium permanganate results in severe nausea and diarrhea and finally, in some rare cases, prolonged exposure to potassium permanganate can adversely affect the liver and kidneys and even reduce fertility.


The following recommendations can be applied as solutions to reduce the burden of musculoskeletal disease among workers in the garment industry-

i. Although there are labor laws for maintaining occupational health and safety, overall standards are low due to lax enforcement of labor laws, and employers do not take responsibility for maintaining and optimizing work conditions. The foremost initiative is to establish policies in the garment factory and have them monitored by a committee representing both the owner and the employee.

ii. Promoting ergonomic practices in factories can be one of the ways to reduce ergonomic hazards among workers. Proper storage and handling of heavy materials can play an important role in reducing musculoskeletal problems. These interventions may include the provision of multi-level racks for trolleys and wheels to carry clothes and materials, reduction of height differences for self-removal of materials, elimination of necessary tasks such as bending or twisting, etc. This will prevent workers from carrying heavy loads manually and reduce back pain or muscle sprains.

iii. Workstation design is important to reduce awkward postures for the neck, back, and shoulders. The position of the table, chair, and paddle of the sewing machine should be adjusted considering the height of the worker's body in the sitting position. The height of the sewing machine table should be adjusted from 10 cm to 15 cm above the elbow height. It should be tilted 10 ° to 15° towards the operator and the needle 20 ° backward and the position of the paddle should be placed in front and adjusted according to the comfort of the user. Adjustable desk height, risky operation of the table, needle angle, and position of the paddle should induce a straighter position of the head, neck, and trunk. Only the adjustment of the sewing machine table does not ensure good posture; Chair coordination is also an important issue. The chair should adjust between 51 cm and 61 cm; The backrest distance should be adjusted horizontally by about 5 cm and the backrest height should be fixed at 25 cm. Significant studies of the physical discomfort experienced by sewing machine operators by changing the angle of the seat pan and the backrest of the chair have also been observed.

iv. Since a lack of knowledge about occupational disease is thought to be related to high muscular disease, providing training to both employers and employees is a great way to solve these problems.


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