RMG workers’ potential in the struggle against climate change


Z A M Khairuzzaman :

Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), extreme heat and flooding due to climate change could erase $65 billion in apparel export earnings and one million jobs from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Vietnam by 2030. The World Health Organization COP24 Special Report described climate change as “the greatest health challenge of the 21st century, with major threats to life, health and well-being.”

Bangladesh faces significant climate vulnerability.

Experts predict widespread climate change impacts across the country. Presently, the ready-made garment (RMG) sector is the key driver of the Bangladeshi economy, employing around 4 million workers, and accounting for over 81 percent of the country’s total export earnings.

Climate events impact worker performance, recognised as a top threat to the garment industry. A latest study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) found that 50 percent of Bangladesh’s RMG workforce is affected by climate change.

According to a report of the study conducted on 402 workers of 160 garment factories in Tongi and Gazipur areas, a large number of garment workers face hardships caused by extreme heat, flooding, cyclones, and water-logging owing to climate change.

The climate-induced challenges have led to increased absenteeism in RMG factories, reduced productivity, and lower income levels for the workers.

According to BILS research findings, climate change has resulted in increased leave/absenteeism by 23 percent, reduced efficiency by 8 percent, reduced productivity by 6 percent, reduced income and job insecurity by 13 percent, and increased summer distress by 65 percent.

Forty-two percent garment workers suffer due to rainfall and flooding, while 20 percent of them suffer from cyclones and floods. It has been learnt from garment workers that water pollution has increased by about 18 percent, while air pollution increased by about 64 percent.

As a result, 21 percent of RMG workers complain of headache, 14 percent of dizziness, 20 percent of fatigue and 25 percent of shortness of breath.

Moreover, water-logging has increased by 7 percent and the consumption of cooking gas too increased by about 33 percent.

To overcome the detrimental effects of climate change, creating awareness is a demand of the time at all levels, especially at workplaces and residences as well as among the general public. In this sphere, women and youth trade union (TU) leaders have ample opportunity to play a significant role.


Keeping the objective in the forefront, BILS, in partnership with German cooperation GIZ, has launched a project titled: “Increasing the Capacity of Trade Union for Green Social Dialogue in Bangladesh’s Apparel Industry.” By developing the capacity of garment workers in setting social and environmental standards, they should develop their leadership in this regard so that they can make the people of the society aware of it.

Under the project, a network was formed consisting of youth and women TU leaders of RMG factories located in Tongi and Gazipur neighbourhoods. SKOP and National Trade Union Federation of BILS and G-SKOP extended their cooperation in this regard.

Under the network, training programmes on environmental and climate issues were held and a work plan was formulated.

As part of the work plan, an initiative was undertaken by BILS in collaboration with GIZ to celebrate the World Earth Day on May 17, 2024. Accordingly, the Earth Day, which is sometimes called the International Mother Earth Day, was celebrated in Gazipur by chalking out befitting programmes. Marking the occasion, a discussion meeting and a colourful cultural function were held at Bangmata Begum Fazilatunnesa Conference and Training Centre of Bangladesh Open University, Gazipur.

Youth and women TU leaders, trade union federation at national level, human rights organisations, government and non-government organisations, journalists, leaders of professional organisations and around 400 RMG workers of Gazipur area took part.

At the discussion meeting, the discussants commented that the trade union should come forward to strengthen awareness to reduce the impact of environment and climate change in the garment industry.

Speakers also noted that there is a need to work at the policy-making level to create social and environmental standards for RMG workers.

They emphasised on formulating a strategy at policy-making stage based on the report of a research titled “Assessing Exposure and Vulnerabilities of RMG Workers to Climate Change and Environmental Causes” that was conducted by BILS.

The national level trade unions also have the responsibility to raise the issue of social and environmental standards of workers at the policy-making level. At the end of the programme, environmental plays and music were performed. It was indeed a RMG workers programme with a difference!

The challenge of climate change must be met by engaging working people, especially women and youth TU leaders, who are particularly aware of the threat it poses. Everyone understands the need for national solidarity in the face of climate change. All concerned must act, and act decisively.

(The writer is the senior vice president of Bangladesh Labour Rights Journalist Forum (BLRJF). E-mail: [email protected])