Improving working conditions in the garment industry, Bangladesh

Factory

Our F&F clothing brand sources its clothing from 22 countries, with the vast majority from China, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Turkey. In Bangladesh we have over 50 colleagues working in our sourcing office, including nine production technologists and three ethical experts. They focus on building better relationships with our suppliers by visiting factories every day, checking on working conditions and speaking with management and workers.

Health and Safety

The Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh was the worst industrial accident in the history of the garment industry. Although we did not source from Rana Plaza we have a responsibility to help bring about change to protect the safety and wellbeing of all those who work in the industry.

For all factories we source from the principles of safety, partnership, transparency and improvement apply. In Bangladesh in particular we have conducted structural surveys using independent experts contracted either directly by us or by the Bangladesh Accord at every factory that we source from and publish a list of factories that we use. Furthermore, the Tesco Clothing Manufacturing Standard ensures consistent product quality in all of our sourcing countries. Where factories struggle to meet our ethical and quality standards we try and work with them to improve, however, if they fail to make satisfactory progress they are ultimately removed from our supply base.

“The main objective of the Responsible Sourcing team is to assess and improve the working conditions of the factories that supply Tesco.  We also focus on strengthening management and worker relationships and promote responsible business practices.”

Mashuda Begum – Responsible Sourcing Manager, Tesco

We are also proud to have been signatories of the initial Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord and what it has achieved. We have committed to supporting the new Transition Accord, with a view to supporting Bangladeshi regulatory counterparts take back control of these issues and provide long-term benefits to Bangladeshi workers.

Respect for working hours

It is not uncommon to find factory workers in Bangladesh working excessive overtime hours. This could be for many reasons including that factories do not have proper production planning in place, or systems to effectively monitor overtime. Excessive working hours also leads to higher rates of worker absenteeism and turnover, risks to worker health and safety, and lowers overall factory productivity and quality. This can further result in backlogs of unfinished work and the continued pressure for workers to do lengthy overtime.

At Tesco, we expect all suppliers to comply with the Ethical Trade Initiative’s Base Code which includes clauses that working hours are not excessive, must comply with national laws and all overtime be voluntary.

Where we find evidence that suppliers are not meeting these requirements, we work with them to improve practices. For example, in 2015 we identified a supplier in Bangladesh that did not have sufficient time record or working hours system in place, and that workers were working excessive hours. After identifying the issue a vigorous plan was actioned by the Tesco Responsible Sourcing Team in collaboration with factory management. The plan focused on internal working hour management systems and effective implementation. Together we developed a two-step plan to reduce the excessive overtime:

  • Step 1: A new policy on working hours as well as a joint monitoring committee was created to track workers’ overtime hours. Committee members comprise of factory managers, production supervisors, Industrial Engineering team, HR managers, and compliance staff.
  • Step 2: Shift patterns were reviewed and a new shift was added in order to alleviate the need for workers to work longer hours.

Within a few months of implementing the new measures, the factory was able to bring average monthly working hours back to acceptable limits. Moreover, factory management understand that the changes will help with production efficiency and quality, and keep their high skill workers for longer.

Worker Rights Training

We are involved in training which is run through the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) and aims to improve the worker-management relationships within factories - making sure worker voices are heard and resulting in better working conditions. We believe that open and honest communication between workers and management is the best way to ensure that worker issues are identified and effective action taken. Therefore, we supported with piloting appropriate training with the ETI as part of the plan to enable all garment workers in Bangladesh Accord factories to have a stronger voice to represent their needs. The programme has grown from a pilot in nine garment factories to now reaching 54,000 workers in a further 25 factories. You can find more information about this programme of work here.