In December 2022 we asked garment workers in Bangladesh a series of questions about workplace hazards and emergencies and their experience with different forms of abuse in the workplace. We focused on fires, chemical spills, harmful substance exposures, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. This analysis draws on a sub-sample of 996 respondents, including 737 women and 259 men, who were available for the interview and comfortable answering these questions.
Note: Banner photo courtesy of a garment worker in Bangladesh; numbers in graphs may not sum to 100% due to rounding.
When we asked workers if they knew what to do in case of a fire or chemical spill, workers were more likely to know how to handle a fire emergency: 57% of workers knew what to do in case of a fire, 29% knew what to do in case of both fire and chemical spills, 2% only knew what to do in case of a chemical spill, and 13% did not know what to in either situation. In addition, 18% of workers reported having been exposed at some point to harmful substances that can be inhaled, ingested, or absorbed. When asked what they would do if they noticed a workplace hazard, 96% of workers said they would inform management, 3% did not know if they would inform management, and 3 workers (less than 1%) would not inform management for the following reasons:
- They would first inform their colleagues
- Fear of suspension or firing
- They do not think management would take any action
When asked whether there is regular communication on safety between workers and management, 65% said yes, 20% said no, and 14% were not aware of any such type of communication.
To assess workers’ experiences with verbal abuse, we asked them the following question: “Have you experienced verbal reprimands, bullying or verbal aggression in your workplace?” Just over half of all workers, 52%, ended up telling us they had never experienced such abuse, with 48% (including 50% of women and 41% of men) telling us that they had. Among the 48% of workers who had experienced some type of verbal abuse, below are the response shares by degree of frequency:
|Verbal Abuse Frequency||Women||Men|
Of those who had experienced some verbal abuse, 87% of workers (including 85% of women and 92% of men) were abused by their male superiors. Among those who reported verbal abuse, below is a chart showing the breakdown of all persons who had been verbally abusive, by share of responses for women and men (respondents could select multiple answers):
|Gender and Colleague Type of Reported Verbal Abuser||Women||Men|
After experiencing verbal abuse, 39%of workers (including 39% of women and 41% of men) reported or filed a complaint while 53% (including 54% of women and 50% of men) did not. Of those who reported verbal abuse, 55% said the situation was resolved satisfactorily. Among those who did not report verbal abuse, their most frequent reasons for non-reporting included:
- 27% consider verbal abuse normal when they are at fault
- 22% feared suspension or firing
- 22% thought no action would be taken
- 13% feared retaliation in the form of reprimand or more abuse
We also asked workers about physical abuse, posing the following question to them: “Have you experienced physical aggression in your workplace?” Physical abuse was much less prevalent than verbal abuse, being reported by only 2% of workers (including 3% of women and 2% of men). In terms of frequency, both occasional and rare physical abuse were each reported by 1% of all workers. Of those who had experienced physical abuse, 77% were abused by male superiors. Among those who had experienced physical abuse, below is who those workers said had abused them, by share of responses for women and men (respondents could again select multiple answers):
|Gender and Colleague Type of Reported Physical Abuser||Women||Men|
After they had experienced physical abuse, 91% of workers reported or filed a complaint while 9% did not. Of those who reported physical abuse, 45% said the situation was resolved satisfactorily. Among those who did not report physical abuse, their most frequent reasons for non-reporting included:
- One worker considered physical abuse normal when the workers is at fault
- One worker did not report it because it rarely happens.
When asked about sexual abuse, four women workers reported being sexually abused by their male coworkers (no men reported any type of sexual abuse). The forms of sexual abuse experienced included unwanted physical contact, suggestive remarks, unwanted comments on appearance, and staring. Only one of the four women reported the instance, and subsequently got a satisfactory outcome. Those who did not report cited rationales such as thinking that no action would be taken and choosing to tolerate the abuse.