Improving labor practices in the shrimp sector in Bangladesh

Sumaiya Nehla Saif, Dhaka Community Manager
Dhaka, 7 July 2016

The industry of shrimp cultivation, including processing, freezing, and exporting, is a major sector of the fisheries of Bangladesh. This country's exporting of shrimp contributes 3.78% in GDP, and the industry employs 60,000 people who in turn support well over 3.5 million dependents. Interestingly, as high as 80 percent of the workers are female. Although the cultivation is done in regions surrounded with water (bodies/coastal regions), a major part of compilation, processing, and packaging for export is done in Dhaka. Similar to poor but improving working conditions in the garment sector, the working environment for the shrimp industry labor force has significant room for improvement.

The International Labor Organizationand Bangladesh, in collaboration with Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Ministry of Labor and Employment (MoLE) and Department of Fisheries and Livestock (DoFL) under the Government of Bangladesh, is working on improving labor law compliance and building sound labor practices in this industry. The organizations involved include Bangladesh Employers Federation (BEF), Bangladesh Frozen Food Exporters Association (BFFEA), and the National Coordination Committee of Workers Education.

The primary objective of this project is to look deeply into labor practices in this industry along with occupational health and safety, issues that have been previously undervalued in practices and policies. It also aims to educate both employers and employees in exercising fundamental labor rights in the workplace through trainings, large discussions, and informational programs. Furthermore, this project also aims to introduce tools to support and enhance labor law compliance and, just as importantly, labor inspection. Lastly, it also takes on the attempt to involve both national and international stakeholders and to bring key issues and possible solutions, practices, and areas of improvement to their attention.

There has been a commendable amount of progress in this project, bringing with it an impressive number of accomplishments. First, it has drafted a manual for Training Need Analysis (TNA) customized for different levels of workers who have been identified within the industry. It is also drafting a checklist for labor inspection, specifically for shrimp industry factories and workplaces. Over 2,700 lower-level workers are being educated on their basic rights through drama and radio shows. An industry much understudied in Bangladesh, this project is also funding research on supply chain, labor practice, occupational health, and safety analysis.

This project is a much-needed initiative to promote labor rights in a country that has alarmingly low levels of it, encouraging relevant organizations to initiate similar projects to promote international labor standards in Bangladesh.

Photo: WorldFish

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