Raising rights awareness is a cornerstone of Awaj Foundation’s work and a crucial part of most of our projects. We train workers on their rights under the Bangladesh Labour Law, such as working hours, paid annual leave and sick leave. At the same time, we make workers aware of international labour rights frameworks, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which helps them understand the standards that brands are obligated to uphold.
Rights awareness is particularly important for women workers who are often deprived of their rights to maternity leave and associated benefits such as paid time off and adequate daycare facilities when they come back to work.
However, raising awareness among workers about rights is not enough, they must also have avenues and mechanisms to demand these rights. Awaj Foundation helps set up worker-led committees such as participation committees, safety committees and anti-harassment committees where workers can come together to collectively raise their demands with management.
We not only raise worker awareness on their rights but also help put in place enforcement mechanisms such as participation committees and collective bargaining agreements.
A trade union is the strongest mechanism for workers to demand their rights and therefore Awaj puts specific emphasis on training workers on forming and running trade unions. We particularly focus on women union leaders as they are the most capable of understanding and articulating the needs of women workers, who are the majority of the workforce in the garment sector. Through our support, women-led unions have been able to negotiate ground-breaking collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that provide women workers benefits such as free ultrasound checkups during pregnancy.