Decent Work in Global Supply Chains

27 Feb 2017, 10:49 AM

Agriculture Supply Chain in Bangladesh and the Problems of Agriculture Workers

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The economy of Bangladesh standing on 4 pillars namely agriculture production, national revenue income, export earnings and remittance by migrant workers. Agriculture is the single most important sector of Bangladesh economy providing the major source of livelihood in the rural areas where about 78 percent of the population lives. The sector accounts for 45.1 percent of total labor force (61 Million) and contributes estimated approximately 11.68 percent of the GDP in the fiscal year 2016-2017 (Bangladesh Economic Review-2016). The performance of this sector has an overwhelming impact on major macroeconomic objectives like employment generation, poverty alleviation, human resources development and food security.

Agriculture sector in Bangladesh is presently suffering with acute decent work deficit such as lack of policy and legal frame-work; poor wage; long working hour; high occupational health and safety risks; no social protection/safety-net and lack of fundamental rights of the workers at workplaces, low organizing capacity and initiatives by trade unions etc.

Existing labor law of the country recently permitted the agriculture workers rights to form trade unions and bargain collectively in a limited way although the country has ratified ILO Convention no. 87 & 98 long ago. There is always a need for an integrated organizing initiative and policy advocacy actions for having special policy measures and legal framework of protecting workplace rights and minimum social protection measures for workers at agriculture sector of Bangladesh.

The scope of modern agriculture has been widened significantly although agriculture used to be originally defined as the cultivation of land for producing crops only, now-a-days, any applied activity through proper utilization of natural resources which relates to the production, development, preservation, processing, marketing and extension of not only crops but also other agricultural commodities such as fish, meat, eggs, forest products, etc. is universally accepted within the purview of agriculture. According to the above definition, crop production, animal husbandry, fisheries, forestry, etc. are integral components of agriculture. But, crops undoubtedly constitute the largest and most important sector of Bangladesh agriculture. In Bangladesh, it is possible to reduce rural poverty and raise the living standard of common people by establishing agriculture as a profitable sector.

In Bangladesh Crop production system is highly labor intensive and there is an abundance of labor supply in the country; Agriculture is the largest source of employment for skilled and unskilled labor; favorable natural environment generally exists throughout the year for crop production; Wide range of bio-diversity exists for different crops; Different crops and agricultural commodities are the main sources of nutrition, including protein, minerals and vitamins; Agricultural commodities have comparatively higher value added than non-agricultural commodities; Agriculture is dependent on the vagaries of nature and is risky; Availability of cultivable land is decreasing; Lack of proper land use planning. Widespread poverty among the population engaged in agriculture; Lack of required capital for agricultural activities; Agricultural commodities are rapidly perishable and post-harvest losses are too high; Inadequacy of appropriate technology considering farmers' socio- economic conditions; Decreasing yields of different crops due to slow expansion of modern technology as well as unplanned use of soil and water; Uncertainty of fair price of agricultural commodities due to underdeveloped marketing system; Very weak backward-forward linkage in agriculture; Limited knowledge of common people about the nutritional value of agricultural commodities including vegetables and fruits; Absence of efficient as well as effective farmers' organization at the grass root level; Inadequate use of improved seeds, fertilizers, irrigation and other inputs.

Agriculture Laborer in Bangladesh:
According to Bangladesh Labor Force Survey 2013, total labor forces are 5.41 cores where 3.79 male & 1.62 are female. Total 47.3% are employed in agriculture sector where employed in industry sector 17.64% & service sector 35.06%.
The socio-economic condition of agriculture labourer in Bangladesh is not up to the mark. They lead their live & livelihood through selling labour, cultivate land on shared basis/lease. Very often they do not receive fare wage and fare share of produced crops. Even they do not receive fare price of crops also. No social security scheme for them. As per agriculture census in 1996 approximate 65% families are included definition of rural wage. They are the majority class of Bangladesh.

Constitution of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh part two, Fundamental Principles of state Policy article 14 & 16 said, (14) It shall be fundamental responsibility of the State to emancipate, the toiling message -the peasants and workers and backward section of the people from all forms of exploitation. (16) The State shall adopt effective measures to bring about a radical transformation in the rural areas through the promotion of an agricultural revolution, the provision of rural electrification, the development of cottage and other industries, and the improvement of education, communications and public health, in those areas, so as progressively to remove the disparity in the standards of living between the urban and the rural areas.

Agriculture Labour Ordinance 1984 is the only law for the interest of agriculture laborer. In that ordinance, there was a provision to form a council namely ‘minimum wages and price council for agriculture laborer’ but still not yet formed.

Bangladesh ratified ILO Convention 1921 [Right of association (agriculture) convention]. According to Article 1 of this Convention: ‘Each member of the International Labour Organization which ratifies this convention undertakes to secure to all those engaged in agriculture the same rights of association and combination as to industrial workers, and to repeal any statutory or other provisions restricting such rights in the case of those engaged in agriculture’. But nothing included in this regard in Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 and its amendment on 2013.

Problems of Agriculture workers in Bangladesh:
Agriculture Laborers are facing series of problems which is mostly interlinked and multidimensional. Such as: low voice in society, no fixed working hour, no wage structure, wage discrimination between male and female laborer, selling advanced labor, exploitation by medieval & creditor, no compensation, no profit sharing system and absence of union & CBA rights.

Women’s Engagement in Agriculture sector in Bangladesh:
In the history of human civilization, women had first initiated the agricultural activities. Women are playing an important role in agricultural growth in developing countries, but face persistent obstacles and societal and economic constraints that limit their further inclusion in agriculture. Women tend to be “invisible” in the agricultural sector in Bangladesh, owing to the assumption that women are not involved in agricultural production, and because of cultural norms that value female seclusion and undervalue female labour. In Bangladesh, women are participating equally with men not only in farm activities like rice production, but even in activities like irrigation. In recent time, the participation of rural women in agricultural work is increasing due to changes in social values and norms. They are playing an important role in ensuring food security for poor rural families. The recent labour force survey show that 66 percent of women participated in agricultural activities in 2008, an increase from 58 percent in 2000. The allocation of time has also increased from 1.11 to 1.28 hours per day although this was less than 1988 level.

Nowadays, direct involvement of women in agricultural activities opens up wide prospects in this sector. Still, being a traditional Muslim society, women’s participation in economic activities in general and in agriculture in particular has still remained low.

Agriculture Sector and Trade Union :

There was no recognition of agriculture workers as workers and also there have no right to form trade union of agriculture workers. But in present agriculture workers are recognized as workers by the amended labour law of Bangladesh. But still there has no legal rights to form trade union of individual agriculture workers. For this there has lack of collective bargaining for agriculture workers and the sector.

Recently several NGO’s working for the organizing of agriculture workers. Bangladesh Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Foundation (OSHE) and Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation (BLF) are such example. They are facilitating agriculture workers to form agriculture workers trade union. As a result first ever agriculture workers union Sonagazi Krishi Shromik Union (Sonagazi Agriculture Workers Union) of Feni district and Chunarughat Krishi Shromik Union (Chunarughat Agriculture Workers Union) of Habiganj district have formed. It is a great achievement for the agriculture Sector.


2 months ago

Thank you Mr. Asad for sharing this informative and educative work on agriculture sector. You shared that recently agriculture workers also able to form union that is really good sign for organizing the unorganized informal workers in Bangladesh. I also informed that Bangladesh Agriculture Workers Rights activists (individual/organisation/association) formed a network named Bangladesh Krishi Sromik (agriculture workers) Rights Network. If possible please share more detail about it, if you have any information.

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