Factory workers

Chilling Prospects: Addressing heat-related risks in Bangladesh's Ready-made Garment (RMG) Sector

Towards sustainable cooling and improved working conditions
Data analysis

According to Chilling Prospects 2023 analysis, Bangladesh is home to 20.7 million women and 16.5 million men at high risk due to lack of access to cooling services. Women make up as much as 57 percent of the urban poor at high risk in the country as a result of their over-representation in urban slums.

Bangladesh regularly experiences some of the highest maximum temperatures registered in Asia and it is expected to see an increase of up to 3.6°C under a high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions scenario (RCP8.5) by the end of the century. With more severe and frequent heatwaves, it is predicted that Bangladesh will suffer economic losses and occupational health risks in some sectors, particularly in the ready-made garment (RMG) industry. By 2030, Bangladesh is expected to lose 4.84 percent of working hours due to heat stress – the equivalent of 3.833 million full-time jobs.  

The RMG industry in Bangladesh is a strong driver of economic growth and female employment. Some of the world's biggest fashion brands operate in Bangladesh, representing around 25 percent of the total garment workforce worldwide, the second-largest clothing manufacturer after China. In 2019, the industry accounted for about 83 percent of the country’s export earnings and represented 12-15 percent of its GDP. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, there are 7,727 establishments in the country, and female workers represent at least 60 percent of the workforce in this industry.  

Poor ventilation, insufficient lighting, lack of drinking water and inadequate sanitation facilities are common, and heat-related risks in the RMG sector are a major concern. Activities such as sewing, ironing, pressing, steaming and other processes contribute to the overall heat generation in factories, making it critical to address the impact of high temperatures and humidity on workers, particularly female employees.  According to a recent study in Dhaka, the temperature on the upper floors of garment factories can consistently exceed 30°C and there are 110 days throughout the year when temperatures can surpass 35°C. Another study shows that heat causes dizziness, headaches, fatigue and nausea among RMG workers.  

In hot working environments with inadequate sanitation facilities, workers avoid drinking water as they often need permission from their supervisors to leave their places of work to refill water containers or go to the restroom. Passive solutions such as green roofs, white roofs and shading can decrease indoor temperatures by 2-3°C in the hottest parts of the factories, decreasing demand for active cooling and improving work conditions. Other measures to improve well-being and productivity include heat education and awareness, improved hydration, and sanitation facilities for women.  

In recent years, international garment brands, government, labour organizations and multilateral organizations have been working to improve working conditions in the sector and modernize structural, electrical and safety standards. The Bangladesh National Cooling Plan for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol marks a milestone in the response to tackle the impact of extreme temperatures. In the coming years, a holistic approach that encompasses passive and cooling solutions is expected not only to curb carbon emissions but to improve working conditions for both sexes in the garment sector and set an example for other countries relying on this sector.  




Cooling for All