Awaj Foundation was established in 2003 out of the urgent need to protect workers’ rights in the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector of Bangladesh. Founded by former child worker and labour organizer Nazma Akter, Awaj Foundation is driven by the vision of decent work, dignified lives and gender equity in the industrial sectors of Bangladesh.
The RMG sector in Bangladesh provides employment opportunities to over three million, mostly unskilled, poor women. Comprising over 80% of the country’s export earnings, the sector makes an enormous contribution to the country’s economy. However, the benefits of this highly productive sector have not been equally distributed. Poor working conditions and labour and human rights abuses at factories remain widespread. Moreover, increasing global competition has led to a race to the bottom and compromises in workers’ rights in order to reduce production costs. The catastrophic consequences of this was made apparent with the Rana Plaza collapse, which led to the largest industrial disaster in modern times and the death of 1,134 workers.
The word “awaj” means sound / voice in the Bengali. We believe that collective action and strengthening the voices of the workers is the best way to address the problems facing the RMG sector in Bangladesh and globally. Awaj Foundation raises awareness on the issues facing garment workers, trains workers on their rights and responsibilities under national and international legal frameworks and builds their capacity to take leadership and negotiate for better working conditions. As a women-led organization, gender-equity and addressing gender-based violence is one of the main priorities of Awaj Foundation and this is a cross-cutting theme in all our interventions.
As a women-led organization, gender-equity and addressing gender-based violence is one of the main priorities of Awaj Foundation and this is a cross-cutting theme in all our work.
Over the years, Awaj Foundation’s capacity has increased and the range of services we provide has expanded. While working on labour rights violations, we realized that workers have a diverse range of needs related to reproductive health, other health services, domestic violence, education for their children, and more. Awaj started taking initiative to address these problems and we were fortunate to receive technical and financial help from international development agencies in many of these endeavors. In recent years, our work has also expanded to include providing support to workers migrating for RMG sector work abroad. Through 22 offices and community centers, we provide support to over 740,000 workers in 12 major industrial clusters in Dhaka and Chittagong Divisions.