Bangladeshi Garment Workers Riot

We may have applauded the Bangladeshi garment workers’ pay raise too soon. While an 80 percent increase may sound generous, the new wage of $45 a month is far below the minimum monthly living wage of $73, which has workers striking and protesting violently.

“We have tried our best to meet the demands of the workers,” said Labor Minister Khandaker Mosharaff Hossain, announcing the new wage.

Insulted garment workers, predominantly women, have taken to the streets again–attacking factories, burning cars and blocking highways. It’s fair to say the workers have rejected the country’s first offer.

“The government has just done what the garment factory owners want. This offer is not acceptable to workers,” said Mosherafa Mishu, the head of the Garment Workers Unity Forum. He warns that workers’ emotions are running high and they are prepared to organize a militant movement. With more than 4,000 factories employing 2-3 million workers, that kind of action could really shake up the nation.

This is the first raise since 2006. Only four years ago, workers were living on the equivalent of $25 a month, an income well below the poverty line. Labor rights group the International Trade Union Confederation has said garment workers in Bangladesh are paid the least in the world.

Meanwhile, business is booming for Bangladesh’s garment industry. Exporting mostly to Europe and the United States, with clients like Wal-Mart, The Gap, and Levi-Strauss, they earn $12 billion a year and generate 80 percent of the country’s export income.

The garment workers have at least one power player in their corner. A week ago, just before the final decision, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed told parliament garment workers’ salaries were “inhuman,” and said manufacturers should share profits with the workers.

Photo from Flickr user Dblackadder under Creative Commons 3.0

Comments

  1. jenincanada says:

    The companies *could* pay their workers a proper wage but it'd take a 1/6th of their profit and I'm sure they don't want to do that, as it's 1.8 billion dollars "lost", in their eyes. However, with garment workers having a real wage, imagine what it'd do for India's economy and health and wellbeing. The benefits outweight the deficits.

    • Just for your information, Bangladesh and India are two separate countries.

      One the other hand, news such as this, must appeal to the sentimentalist in you. But please do not pass judgement before you are aware of what exactly is going on in the country.

      This industry is the one reason the country is staying afloat. It needs a few more years of stability to attain any kind of feasibility to pay the workers appropriately. The situation as it now stands, can only serve to push the GDP down, and then how will the workers be paid?

      Since the Prime Minister is such an avid supporter, you might want to question how she is able to spend over $200bil in changing the name of airports and other landmarks, and how she is able to afford luxury cars and multiple residences for herself, and the rest of her family? And how all the other ministers of her cabinet spends millions on other luxury items? Shouldn’t she be more involved in finding a way to lower prices of food and other amenities, instead of pretending to care?

      • The current PM, Sheikh Hasina, is doing exactly as Bangladeshi PMs before her did, accumulating money and power. Her predecessor Begam Zia did the same thing, as did Gen. Ershad before Zia, on and on. What the PMs do is irrelevant to what the factory owners do. The factory owners are extremely rich men, who care so little about their employees that they shut them up in factories where, if the workplaces catch fire, hundreds of mostly women die because the workers are locked in!
        Bangladesh's history of garment factory fires, plus ridiculously low pay for the workers, is execrable.

        • Can you hold all Muslims accountable, for the actions of fundamentalists?

          Following that same logic, isn’t it an injustice to assume that the actions of few terribly managed factories, every other factory owner should be held accountable.

          There is such a thing known as compliance standard, that admittedly, serves the profit motive. If factories do not have day care centers, nurse stations, standard operating procedure during fires or other disasters, if owners do not provide paid leaves, maternity leave benefits or pay full health care costs etc, they get no business from foreign buyers. The point to be made here is that, these standards are maintained, along with considerable overtime payment beyond basic pay, because these owners need business.

          The glory of capitalism is that you are rewarded for the effort, capital, time and ideas you have invested. So why shouldn’t factory owners reap their rewards? However you are relying on sensationalist media coverage that assumes that every garments owner walks away with a new BMW, thus increasing sales upto 100% for the year (The Daily Star). That is so illogical, it hurts the brain. These showrooms, sell what? 6 cars in 7 months on average?

          And how is it irrelevant to question the activities of the PMs? They claim they act in favor of the country, its people, their well being and the economy. I have yet to see such benefits of government in Bangladesh. All I know is food prices are high, and the commerce minister is all talk and he just bought himself and his brothers two new Mercedes S-class sedans. And this, in one of the poorest nations of the world.

          The garment’s industry is this country’s salvation. It’d be best to acquaint yourself with basic economics, and maybe, just maybe, more insight.

    • The article is about garment workers in Bangladesh, not India!

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  1. [...] past and present – primarily employs women. The workers in the modern garment industrynever made a living wage; as the worldwide economy has soured, their pay has not kept up with inflation, and the payment of [...]

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