Bangladesh’s ready-made garments (RMG) industry has been the focus of attention in recent weeks due to the second anniversary of the collapse of Rana Plaza, one of the deadliest industrial accidents in Bangladesh in which more than a 1,000 mostly women workers lost their lives.

Recent UK and US media reports have highlighted the plights of workers and abuse of their rights suggesting that not much has changed since the accident in April 2013. Concerns are also growing over the use of child labour in garments production.

The 2014 Bangladesh WiLCAS survey confirms that the employment of children in the RMG industry is widespread. While girls are more likely to be enrolled in school than boys in non-RMG areas – a pattern that prevails in most parts of Bangladesh today – the opposite is true in RMG areas. The growing demand for female labour means that a new form of gender inequality is emerging in the country’s industrial areas where boys are kept in school whilst girls are being sent to work. Bangladesh’s RMG industry is expected to increase four-fold in size over the next 20 years attracting millions more female workers. According to our estimates, one out of every ten is likely to be between the ages of 10 and 17.

M Niaz Asadullah and Zaki Wahhaj



Niaz Asadullah is Professor of Development Economics and Deputy Director of the Centre for Poverty and Development Studies (CPDS) at the University of Malaya. Zaki Wahhaj is Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Kent.