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New helpline a boon to garment workers

ExperienceLaura WilkinsonComment
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What may seem like a given for Western workers and consumers is just being introduced to garment workers in Bangladesh – an anonymous helpline.

In May, one of the country’s first helplines, called Amader Kotha, was established by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.  The Bangla-language helpline enables workers to anonymously voice concerns about safety and other workplace issues.

Workers can report a safety issue via a simple phone call or text message without fear of reprisal, helping to prevent smaller issues from becoming major challenges.

The helpline is currently being piloted in about 29 factories that manufacture clothing for Alliance members.  The Alliance helpline is a collaboration with three well-respected partners: Clear Voice, Phulki, and Good World Solutions.

Phulki Executive Director Suraiya Haque recently shared some anecdotes that demonstrate how the helpline is being utilized by garment workers.

For example, operators have helped to resolve the first half-dozen or so safety issues that were reported by workers - issues such as blocked exits. She also noted that because the concept of an anonymous helpline is still unfamiliar, operators have fielded about 500-600 test calls from garment workers, curious to verify that the helpline actually exists as advertized in their factory.

In September, the helpline received more than 800 calls - an 83 percent increase in call volume, compared to August. It's now available to more than 85,000 workers.

The helpline is also helping workers when they’re not at the factory. When one worker spotted a fire at a structure in her hometown, she recalled having seen a flier for the helpline at work. So she called Amader Kotha, looking for assistance in reaching her local fire brigade. An operator was able to connect her to her local fire station, and firefighters soon arrived to help put out the blaze.

Ms. Haque’s comments were shared during a Sept. 17 roundtable of the Bipartisan Policy Center, convened by former Senators George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe. The BPC played an instrumental role in the formation of the Alliance last year, and recently conducted an independent, thorough assessment of the Alliance’s progress in its first 14 months – including establishing the helpline.

During the Sept. 17 event, the former Senators applauded the Alliance for making “significant and laudable progress” to improve safety and working conditions for Bangladesh garment workers.

In a follow-up letter to the Alliance sent recently, the senators encouraged the Alliance to continue its efforts, and to help the “government of Bangladesh built its capacity to perform what are essentially governmental functions, now being undertaken by the Alliance.”