As the one of the most densely populated countries in the world reaching 148.7 million in 2010 – affected by its tropical climate and annual floods – poverty in Bangladesh is deep and widespread.

The population is young – roughly one third are aged under 14 years. Economic growth is strong, with GDP of 5-6 per cent since the mid-1990s. Over 50 per cent of GDP is produced by the service sector, although agriculture is the largest employer. The impact of the global financial crisis was muted by the strength of the low-cost garment industry. Garment exports combined with remittances from migrant workers make up almost a quarter of GDP. Gas reserves have attracted foreign investment.

Bangladesh has made strides in a number of social indicators. Poverty reduction has been substantial, more children go to school and there is greater access to clean water. Infant mortality rates have fallen and environmental challenges are being addressed. Efforts still need to be made to ensure the most vulnerable benefit from economic growth. Maternal mortality rates remain high and social indicators in urban slums, coastal belts and the hill tracts lag behind.

Decent work and labour market issues

Poverty reduction and boosting production and income are key priorities of the Government of Bangladesh and creating an enabling environment for job rich growth will be key success.
Strong economic growth in recent years coupled with a reduced population growth rate has led to rising per capita GDP ($673 in 2010). However, growth has been largely jobless. Unemployment and underemployment are pervasive and women have low employment rates.
Almost 80 per cent of jobs are in the informal economy. The formal sector includes the garments industry, which employs over two million people, some 90 per cent of whom are women.
Targeted social protection schemes are being extended while micro-financing initiatives and training enable entrepreneurs to lift themselves out of poverty. Social protection and access to social services remains limited though, particularly for the most vulnerable.
Social dialogue and collective bargaining is used by some workers to defend their interests. The leather industry has institutionalized dialogue to fix wages. Few women participate though and the size of the informal sector makes bargaining difficult.
Child labour remains a significant challenge, particularly in its worst forms. While the number of child labourers is falling, many continue to work, often in hazardous conditions.

Decent work into national policies

National planning tools including the Outline Perspective Plan for Bangladesh 2010-2021 – “Making Vision 2021 a Reality”; and the Sixth Five Year National Development Plan lay out the government’s priorities. These include: 1) Boosting production, income and reducing poverty; 2) Securing human resource development; 3) Improving water and sanitation; 4) Strengthening energy and other infrastructure; 5) Achieving gender equality; 6) Improving environmental security and 7) Better governance.
To support these aims, the Government, Trade Unions and Employers’ Organizations in cooperation with the ILO designed a Decent Work Country Programme (Review, programme and updated status) which focuses on:
i) Improving skills training and entrepreneurship for enhanced employability and livelihoods;
ii) Improving coverage of social protection and rights for workers in selected sectors, including migrants;
iii) Combating child labour with priority focus on the worst forms of child labour
iv) Strengthening social dialogue.
These DWCP priorities also contribute towards the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF).


National partners

Ministry of Labor & Employment - Bangladesh
Bangladesh Employers’ Federation (BEF)
Bangladesh Trade Union Sangha


World Bank, World Development Indicators
ILO KILM, 7th Edition 
UN Statistics Division, MDG Indicators

Further reading<

Bangladesh Decent Work Country Programme 2006-2009
United Nations Development Assistance Framework for Bangladesh 2012-2016
United Nations Development Assistance Framework in Bangladesh 2006-2010
Millennium Development Goals: Mid-term Bangladesh progress report 2007
World Bank. Bangladesh: Data and Statistics