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Young Bangladeshis push for climate action but workers left out

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Young Bangladeshis push for climate action but workers left out


More voices needed

A new report by UK-based think-tank Climate Strategies and Dhaka’s University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) urges the Bangladesh government to listen more to the concerns of different communities, including workers and women, as it aims to grow its economy and combat climate change.

The study, which explores “the case for just transitions” in the South Asian nation’s energy, agricultural and garment industries, says an emerging shift towards greener, low-carbon practices in those sectors should prioritise the rights of vulnerable groups, such as smallholder farmers.

Shamsad Mortuza, a professor at ULAB and one of the authors of the study, called for an effort to “identify and reach out to marginalised groups and get their voices heard to ensure a just climate transition”.

The report recommends designing new skills programmes for workers, developing materials to educate students about a green transition, and bringing government ministries together with business and civil society to enable more coherent planning.

Jahangirnagar University professor Muhammad said participation of workers in discussions and other initiatives has so far been limited.

Samantha Sharpe, research director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, said climate change is already significantly affecting working conditions in countries like Bangladesh, leading to work-hour losses, an increase in gender-based violence and rising occupational health risks.

“And this impact will only strengthen as the planet gets warmer,” she said.

The Bangladesh government has made some effort to gauge how climate change will play out for the workforce. For example, the national climate prosperity plan, published in 2021, predicts that spiking temperatures will result in productivity losses equivalent to 3.83 million full-time jobs by 2030.

Yet, despite potential climate-related problems for workers’ health, conditions and livelihoods, labour organisations have so far limited their lobbying to more traditional concerns such as better wages, benefits and safety issues.

Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation, said workers are so preoccupied by meeting their basic needs that they lack the knowledge and courage to join social movements on wider issues like climate or environment.

Amin’s organisation – affiliated with the international trade union body IndustriAll – has joined other garment workers’ unions in calling for an increase in the sector’s minimum monthly wage to 23,000 taka (US$215) from 8,000 taka (US$75) now.

About 60 per cent of Bangladesh’s 3.6 million apparel workers are women, mostly migrants from poor rural families, and they do not have the education or social power to mobilise for global causes, Amin added.

“I do not know much about the changing climate,” said Khaleda Begum, 35, who has been working in garment factories on the outskirts of Dhaka for the last five years after migrating from the flood-prone northern district of Lalmonirhat.

Sharing climate concerns

Among the few workers’ bodies that have made an early move into the climate advocacy arena is the Awaj Foundation, a labour rights platform founded by former child worker Nazma Akter.

Ismet Jarin, a project coordinator at Awaj, said it is trying to raise awareness among workers, especially women, about climate change impacts and how to share their concerns and demands on heat and other risks, so that environmental movements and organised labour can see eye-to-eye on common issues.

Urmi Akter, a worker at a garment factory in Gazipur, said she – along with many co-workers – are affected by seasonal rains that sometimes flood their homes, while there is a scarcity of pure drinking water in their neighbourhoods.

“We need to translate what climate change means for labour so they too can share their needs for a just climate transition,” said Rahman from Youthnet for Climate Justice.

Mortuza said ULAB’s Center for Sustainable Development has been working on a range of ways, including roundtables, to bring together people backing climate action and those affected by warming impacts to discuss how best to tackle the challenges.

“We cannot get everyone’s version of the truth through a top-down approach,” he said.

The researchers also aim to use interviews and digital media like podcasts to engage a broader audience.

“We want to get the information in bite-sized format to policy-makers and ordinary people to make them understand why and what needs to be done on just transition,” he added.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit https://www.context.news/.

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