Accepted paper:

The politics of excluding labour from Bangladesh's social protection design


Nabila Idris (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This study uses the case of Bangladesh to explore why some countries in the global South may be excluding workers from their social protection agenda.

Paper long abstract:

Despite conflicting explanations for why European nations extended social protection to workers beginning in the late 1800s, it remains virtually uncontested that social protection for workers was at the forefront of the design of these welfare states. Using the case of Bangladesh, this study explores why the countries in the global South are following a markedly different trajectory. Between 2013-2018, Bangladesh saw two efforts to institutionalise labour-friendly social protection. The timing is crucial because these came on the heels of the country's worst industrial disaster - 2013's Rana Plaza collapse killed over a thousand workers. A major supplier of ready-made garments worldwide, the apparel industry wields enormous power inside the country. The collapse, however, brought into stark relief the desperately sorry plight of those at the lowest rung of the global supply chain. Subsequently, the first attempt to improve workers' social protection, via the newly-minted National Social Security Strategy, was rejected by the Cabinet. The second attempt—to develop an employment injury insurance scheme—shows little signs of success. Nevertheless, backed by national and international stakeholders, this truncated social protection agenda, where formal sector workers barely get a mention, continues apace unchallenged. Through over fifty elite interviews and the analysis of hundreds of internal government documents, this qualitative study unearths the complex system of power and economic relations that hamstrung efforts to improve Bangladeshi workers' social protection. It questions the future of a social protection agenda that excludes labour, and notes the de-politicising effect it has on social protection as a whole.

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The politics of state policies and social protection
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