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Bangladesh Garment Works Get Employment Injury Insurance

Garment workers in Bangladesh making goods for some of the world’s largest fashion firms will now have access to income protection and medical care services when they are injured on the job.

The Employment Injury Scheme (EIS), developed by the International Labour Organization (ILO), represents the first program of its kind in the country. Japan’s Fast Retailing, Denmark’s Bestseller, H&M Group, German retailers KiK Textilien und Non-Food GmbH and Tchibo and Irish fast fashion firm Primark have invested in the pilot program, which will compensate garment workers and their dependents in the case of employment-related accidents that lead to permanent disability or death.

EIS was created in keeping with ILO’s Employment Injury Protection Convention, and will begin with research into occupational accidents and rehabilitation at around 150 sample factories in the region. The data gleaned through this process will help the ILO and partners to gauge the average medical costs for injured workers and then identify the resources needed to support medical care. “This will demonstrate the viability, feasibility and cost efficiency of an EIS in Bangladesh, ensuring affordability of employers’ contributions by testing the impact of a sharing of responsibility approach,” ILO said in a statement.

The program will also provide income replacement for the families of workers who are permanently disabled or die performing their work duties. These benefits will be spread across entire ready-made garment industry, ILO said—not just the sampled factories or those contracted by the six brands that signed on as pledges. The rollout will be overseen by a committee established by the government of Bangladesh, including its Ministry of Labor and Employment as well as worker and employer representatives.

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While the pilot was developed to run for a duration of four years, Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing said it planned to permanently implement EIS following that period. “Fast Retailing recognizes that one of our most important responsibilities is to protect the security and safety of the people who help to make our clothes,” group executive officer and head of sustainability Yukihiro Nitta said when the program launched June 21. “The new EIS pilot in provides a pathway to a significant new safety net for workers in Bangladesh–one of our key manufacturing locations.”

Nitta said that Fast Retailing plans to continue to work with ILO to develop solutions to rights and safety issues faced by workers across Asia, and not just in its own supply chain. It aims to create “systemic social protection measures and improved working environments across the region, he added.

ILO described EIS as “a milestone towards establishing decent work and economic growth in [Bangladesh].”

Crystal digitizes P.A.C.E.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based Crystal International, a supplier of casual apparel, activewear, intimates and denim for brands including Uniqlo and Gap, is digitizing training courses designed to empower women in the garment industry with skills to advance their careers and personal development.

The Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.) program was developed by Gap Inc. in 2007 to provide its global supplier workforce with a practical education curriculum. Crystal International, which employs 80,000 workers in 20 factories and five countries, is the first global partner approved to administer hybrid P.A.C.E. training through in-person and web-based courses.

Students across Crystal's factories have access to hybrid in-person and online learning.
Students in Crystal’s factories have access to hybrid in-person and online learning. Crystal International

Crystal’s denim factory in China first launched P.A.C.E. in 2012, and has matriculated seven cohorts for a total of 1,800 students to date. The program has since expanded to the company’s operations in Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

The need for a digital component arose during 2019, as the first signs of the Covid-19 pandemic appeared in Asia, Crystal said. With in-person learning off the table, the denim factory in China launched the pioneer virtual learning platform during the fall. “The online learning journey enabled the students to learn anytime, anywhere, which is more convenient and time-saving,” Crystal said. Gap Inc. lauded the digital effort, which grew to encompass all of its P.A.C.E. programs globally. While 150 students graduated in 2020, 500 students completed the program last year.

The online training sessions were developed to foster personal and professional skills that will help employees advance their careers, according to Crystal. Each P.A.C.E. course consists of five modules made up of animated videos on communication, problem solving and decision making, time and stress management, health and excellence execution. “Their work efficiency and quality have also significantly improved while some of them are promoted to line leaders,” it said.

The digital curriculum earned honors from Gap Inc. last year, when Crystal’s denim factory received the ‘Digital Content Creator Award’ at an annual award ceremony. Meanwhile, Crystal’s Cambodia factory was awarded the ‘P.A.C.E. Photo of the Year Award,’ which illustrated the company’s commitment to female worker empowerment. Post-pandemic, Crystal said it plans to continue to encourage online learning across its locations in Vietnam and Cambodia to give workers flexibility and convenience.