The Government of Bangladesh entered into a collaboration with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in July 2020 to implement the Deutsche Gesellschaft’s “Sustainability in the Textile and Leather Sector” (STILE) project für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in the ready-to-wear (RMG) sector. A series of programs including the promotion of occupational safety, environmental protection and social dialogue have been implemented under this project to improve compliance with social and environmental standards in the textile industry, clothing and leather in Bangladesh.
Launch of the Mili program
Bangladesh has come a long way since the Rana Plaza collapse and the Tazreen tragedy, which enveloped the industry, raising serious questions about compliance. The country’s garment industry has grown since the tragedies and bold steps have been taken to strengthen occupational safety and health with initiatives such as the National Workmen’s Compensation Insurance Scheme and Insurance against industrial accidents (EII), as well as the formation of the Agreement on the safety of fires and buildings. in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Several programs promoting workers’ rights and security, trade unions, minimum wages and job security have also been introduced since.
Just Style takes a closer look at ‘Mili’ which responds to the communication component of the STILE project.
The Communication component of STILE uses awareness, information and education campaigns to improve compliance with social and environmental standards. It also includes women’s cafes and capacity development measures centered on factory committees.
The drama series “Mili” was born out of the need to initiate social dialogue between workers and management, to circulate knowledge about labor and human rights, while allowing employees to advocate for the compliance with social and environmental standards. The project focuses on preparing management and factory committees to address the complex issues facing their workers while strengthening communication channels at the same time.
Gaps have been identified in the industry using reference materials and media behavioral studies conducted with said target group. As Nakib Rajib Ahmed, Deputy Team Leader and Program Advisor at RedOrange Media & Communications explains: “There were no well-established communication channels between workers and management or between women workers in general. The reality is that male workers still have a working understanding of social media and mobile compared to females.
“Another fairly obvious shortcoming was that most factory owners focused on ‘business development’ and ‘meeting production goals’ rather than human rights or labor issues. welfare of workers who are often left unaddressed. If managers are not experienced enough to identify such issues, they are not reported to management.
Mili: a creative solution to improve dialogue in the clothing industry
As a creative solution, the drama series titled “Mili” was created, depicting the life of garment and textile factory workers in its rawest form. The series revolves around a group of garment workers from different backgrounds and backgrounds who work in the same factory. Their daily struggles in the personal and professional sphere are told in the story as well as how they deal with them, including the committees and management people they can contact. This audio-visual medium, as testimonials say, is more attractive to workers because they can emotionally connect to it and draw parallels with it in their real life.
However, this was not the only support provided. Through the project’s multi-stakeholder partnership, around 12 women’s cafes have been established by NGOs, usually close to where the workers live and work. Not the conventional cafes serving drinks, but a place where workers mingle and socialize after work. It has become the focal point for workers not only to communicate, but also a support center where they can work towards building their capacities. The NGO runs soft skills development programs such as training on workers’ legal rights, negotiation and communication skills. This is mostly done with the help of the infotainment drama series “Mili”.
Women’s cafes are also working to provide personal support, adds Anneke Magendans, communication team leader at STILE. “Workers can share and seek help with family issues, domestic violence, etc. with managers and coffee coordinators. Legal advice and advice on matters is also given in case it is needed.
She adds: “The idea was capacity building through social media campaigns. Workers have been sensitized so that they begin to defend their rights, but also to understand the responsibility, environmental concerns and gender issues that surround them. It was a push towards sustainable growth with the surrounding environment. In addition, factory committees had to be well equipped to manage workers’ concerns and convey them to management and the “Mili Series” was one of the most important tools that contributed to this learning. »
To initiate social dialogue and the use of social media, a Facebook group was also created which engages workers in activities around the drama series and provides a common space to share their learnings. In addition, learning and support material has been organized on a website for middle and senior managers with small animation videos, which have free access for continuous development. The aim was to create an environment for workers to voice their concerns and work together with management to improve compliance with social, gender and environmental standards.
A total of 75 factories have been selected to run this program by Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and Leathergoods And Footwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association of Bangladesh (LFMEAB). In each of these factories, factory committee members were trained by a pool of trainers who had received training initially from partner organizations.
The project is currently being implemented by a tripartite consortium consisting of Particip GmbH, Red Orange Media and Communications and the Center of Excellence For Leather Skill Bangladesh Limited (COEL). It is in its second phase of follow-up with the factories, workers and trainers of the association.
Mili is just one initiative in Bangladesh where other players from the RMG, textile and leather sectors are working with different tools (including communication tools) to improve industry standards.
Member opinions and worker voices
Member organizations of the Mili Project and some of the garment workers who received training were keen to share their feedback on the overall experience with Just Style exclusively:
Liton Chowdhury, Managing Director at Songshoptaque:
“This training program is already giving garment workers a better understanding of the issues that affect them on a daily basis and strengthening their relationships with factory owners. Garment workers benefit from the gender and legal rights issues that are addressed in the training program. Additionally, women’s community cafes increase socialization and discussion and provide childcare for their children.
“Live theater that travels around the country in a roadshow-like format with folk songs and local dialects is a popular way to conduct programs like this. We use an online platform with a video-style drama mini-series because we don’t have the capacity or the resources to create a local theater. Women in Bangladesh are not that familiar with social media, but they understand it quickly and that means we can get those key messages out to the masses faster.
Hosna-Ara Nakib, program coordinator to Karmojibi Nari:
“Digital training materials as well as audio-visual tools such as the drama series are a good complement to the conventional training methods we have used before. In addition, we appreciate that new topics are included in the training materials such as environmental standards and gender. »
Arifa from SnowTex Apparels Ltd, Dhaka:
“I watched all nine episodes of Mili. I learned that we should talk to factory committees to prevent environmental degradation the same way Mili did. We were encouraged to see this what Mili has done in this regard. I also learned that if the children are taken care of in the factory’s daycare, the workers can avoid mental stress, which helps them in their work. I have told many my colleagues to watch the drama series from which they will learn how to work better in the factory.
Shimu Akhtar of Eco Apparel Limited, BSICIC Industrial Estate, Tongi:
“Through the drama series Mili, I learned about different types of violence against women and how to prevent it. I also learned how workers can live in harmony by helping each other.
Sohel of Azad Apparels Pvt Ltd, Dhaka:
“I think there is a lot of important information provided in the drama series that garment workers will benefit from.”