Trade Unions, NGOs, and Transnationalization

Experiences from the Ready-Made Garment Sector in Bangladesh

  • Elisabeth Fink (Autor/in)


The recent factory collapse in Bangladesh raises questions about the promotion and protection of workers' rights and about the relevant actors who support workers' interests. As trade unionism in the Bangladeshi ready-made garment (RMG) sector is very weak, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) recently turned to the factories to provide support. Simultaneously, reports about poor working conditions have increasingly gained the attention of international labor organizations as well as transnational civil-society actors. This paper aims to show the effects of this transnationalization process. It particularly focuses on the issues of workers organization and mobilization as well as on the relation of trade unions and NGOs since these are influenced by international collaboration most of all. Given the high percentage of women workers in the RMG sector and the common stereotyped portrayal of the "Third World woman", it further evaluates the gendered implications of transnational support. The article will demonstrate that transnationalization is a highly ambivalent process which, on one hand, provides resources and windows of opportunity for trade unions that can be useful regarding the realization of the right to freedom of association. On the other hand, however, these processes further undermine trade unions' already weak position in the RMG sector.