28 March 2017.
Mymensingh, Bangladesh – With some 5,000 workers, a six-story building for another 5,000 in the pipeline and a history of upgrading standards, Crown Wears is a company setting the bar higher for the garment sector in Bangladesh.
Belonging to Sparrow Group, which supplies top international brands, the factory joined Better Work in 2015 and improvements to working conditions haven’t stopped since.
Located in the country’s central region of Mymensingh, some 75km north of the capital Dhaka, the factory provides full terms and conditions of employment, medical services and coverage of rent and living costs included in its workers’ salaries, starting from the national monthly minimum of 67 US dollars.
Crown’s Human Resources and Compliance Manager Nayim Ahmed said that, based on the factory’s reports, the situation inside the facility has improved over the years and, mostly, after the company joined Better Work.
“Since then, we elected participation committees (PC), established a new medical ward and a childcare facility to host up to 35 children,” Ahmed said. “Before, the nursery was very small and not well equipped, and the only doctor in the facility was often overwhelmed. We have now a female as well as a male doctor and have built two medical rooms, one for women and one for men. We also bought a fridge to keep vaccinations for the children.”
Newly employed doctor Dr Khaled Tamim from the capital Dhaka said he recently supervised the distribution of boxes on each factory floor containing first aid supplies.
“We organise training four times a month with the workers on how to use the first aid kit,” the doctor said, adding that this started thanks to the collaboration with Better Work. “We have recently built our medical team according to the labour law of the country with two medical assistants and two nurses joining the new wards where we carry out stitch-cutting and minor surgical interventions.”
Also, following Better Work’s advice, the factory distributes food to breastfeeding mothers and their children twice a day.
Meanwhile, terms and conditions of employment have become clearer, said Better Work Bangladesh Enterprise Advisor Munim Abdul, adding that the management is now trying to keep all the workers informed about their financial benefits. For example, Bangladesh’s Labour Law states that resigning workers with five years of service receive half of the month’s basic salary for each year of activity. This turns into a whole salary in case of ten years’ service.
Ahmed says the factory also started an evaluation process to reward diligent workers. As per law, workers get a minimum five per cent increment on the basic salary every year. But Crown has provided between five and ten per cent increase on the basic salary depending on the workers’ performance, he explained.
Such moves are key to improving working conditions in the world’s second-largest apparel and textile exporting industry, where poor pay and conditions often lead to protests and strikes across the sector, which employs four million people.
Crown Wears is trying to apply the country’s legal limits on overtime hours by allowing only two extra hours on top of the worker’s eight-hour day. Still, workers welcomed this policy with mixed feelings, mostly because they see it as missing out on an opportunity to earn more money, rather than an improvement to their health conditions.
The factory tries to make up for it by sharing a percentage of profits with the workers on an annual basis, giving maternity benefits and providing cash for the total of unspent earned leave instead of half of it, as the law requires.
Twenty-one year old sewing machine operator Momotaj from Mymensingh said she saw an array of changes inside the factory since starting she working there in 2014, especially in terms of the procedures regulating days of leave and payment of salaries.
“Workers have now developed better communications with the management who, in turn, have started to care more about us,” said the mother of two. “Previously, it would have taken a long time to get leave approved. Now, it has become a pretty speedy process. After seeing these improvements in the past two years, I am now expecting even more attention towards us.”
Operator Jweel Islam agreed. The 22-year-old joined the factory in 2013 and hopes to make a career with Crown Wears.
“I hope I will stay in this factory for a long time,” he said while sitting at his machine. “I usually work eight hours per day and, sometimes, the two extra hours allowed by the law, but not every day. Health and safety procedures have definitely improved as well as the process for taking leave.”
Human Resources Compliance Manager Ahmed said that to achieve the goal set by Dhaka to reach a 50 billion USD garment industry by 2021 from the current $30 billion, improving working conditions is crucial.
“People are our biggest asset. If you improve their lives, their work will be made easier. We work from the bottom to get a fast push at the top,” he said. “People are scared to start something new, but we are happy with what we have done and happy that it has helped build our reputation. This is why you see workers gathering at our main gate looking for a job. That doesn’t happen everywhere.”