Supporting young entrepreneurs in India and Bangladesh to create decent work

‘Decent Work’ is a fundamental human right – it means working in conditions of freedom, safety, dignity and non-discrimination with decent working hours, fair wages, paid sick leave and holidays.

However, despite its status as a universal human right, decent work standards are often not fulfilled, particularly among micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in developing and frontier markets, such as India and Bangladesh. This is often due to a lack of awareness of decent work, lack of enforcement mechanisms, as well as business practices and culture that operate contrary to decent work principles.

To change this, our members Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) in India and Bangladesh Youth Enterprise Advice & Helpcentre (B’YEAH) set out to help young entrepreneurs become champions of decent work. Through our programme funded by IKEA Foundation, they have so far trained more than 500 young entrepreneurs in implementing decent work principles in their businesses.

At the end of January, BYST, B’YEAH and some of the young entrepreneurs who have completed the decent work training came together to share and discuss how they are implementing decent work, what challenges they are facing and how BYST and B’YEAH continue to support young entrepreneurs after the training – find out more below.

Implementing decent work in young entrepreneurs’ businesses

As young entrepreneurs shared how they are implementing decent work in their businesses, three main focus areas emerged:

Employee contracting – Written contracts define the rights and duties of employees and employers. As legally binding documents they guarantee decent working hours, fair wages and social benefits and protect employees from sudden layoffs. They are therefore a corner stone of decent work covered in BYST and B’YEAH’s decent work training. However, some young entrepreneurs experienced push back from their employees who viewed contracts as restrictive and preventing them from leaving the job. Following the decent work training, young entrepreneurs sat down with their employees to explain the benefits of contracts.

Emergency funds for employees – The Covid-19 pandemic and related restrictions have brought economic hardship to India and Bangladesh, particularly to those working in low-income jobs and the informal sector. Many of the young entrepreneurs supported by BYST and B’YEAH noticed that this was affecting their employees and set up emergency funds for them to be released in times of need.

Decent working hours and holidays – Following the decent work training, young entrepreneurs are making sure that their employees get at least one day per week off work. Like Maruf Morshed from Bangladesh, founder of Mum Food, who is currently giving Fridays off for all workers. In the meantime, he is developing a roster to ensure that every employee gets one day off per week while the business stays open on Fridays. Young entrepreneurs are now also making sure none of their employees work on government holidays.

Ongoing support from B’YEAH and BYST

Beyond the decent work training, B’YEAH and BYST are taking measures to support young entrepreneurs with the implementation of decent work in their businesses. B’YEAH are currently preparing a simple, customizable contract template for their young entrepreneurs to use. They have also translated the decent work training into two additional local languages to reach more young entrepreneurs.

BYST have not only trained young entrepreneurs in decent work but have also held a webinar for their mentors, who are now supporting with implementation. Many of the young entrepreneurs supported by BYST have very good relationships with their mentors and highly value their support and inputs. BYST are also conducting regular entrepreneur visits to ensure health protocols are adhered to. They are currently translating the decent work training into additional local languages to reach more young entrepreneurs.

Over the course of the training, it became clear that young entrepreneurs in India and Bangladesh have a strong desire to become responsible employers, however there is a lack of information, support and enforcement mechanisms around decent work – a vacuum that BYST and B’YEAH are working to fill through our programme funded by IKEA Foundation.

If you’d like to learn more about our Decent Work agenda in India and Bangladesh, read our brief ‘Building the next generation of responsible businesses and leaders’.

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