Discussion Paper 46: Workers’ Voice within and beyond Participation Committees

11 Dec 2022

A Case Study of Two Bangladeshi Garment Factories

This study evaluates the effectiveness of Participation Committees (PCs) in addressing workers’ concerns in Bangladeshi garment factories.

In-depth analysis of two garment factories is conducted based on data collected from the ILO-IFC Better Work program and the Garment Supply Chain Governance project. Using workers’ own articulation of their concerns as the starting point of analysis, the concept of ‘workers’ voice’ is applied to analyse PC functionality in relation to alternative/existing voice mechanisms at the workplace. The thesis argues that existing and more established systems at the factory-level such as informal leadership hierarchies among workers and alternative grievance channels can supersede PC’s role in addressing workers’ concerns.

This is especially the case in Bangladesh where the state’s inadequate regulatory oversight diminishes the legitimacy of formal structures and limited union visibility paves way for alternative forms of leadership among workers. Besides existing legal frameworks, external initiatives and brands can also influence how workers’ concerns are articulated, which consequently further limits PCs engagement with more contentious topics.

This study makes three key contributions: Firstly, based on a locally grounded analysis, it reinforces existing scholarship on the influence of legal regulations, management and detrimental purchasing practices on workers’ voice in global supply chains. Secondly, the study exemplifies a way to incorporate local perspectives to deepen understanding of formal voice mechanisms. And thirdly, it contributes empirical insights into the functioning of factory-based voice mechanisms within the context of Bangladesh.

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