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The Bangladeshi garment workers crisis

Feb 1

Written by:
01/02/2017 13:47  RssIcon


Thousands of garment workers demand better pay across Bangladesh


The ongoing crisis in the Bangladeshi garment industy intensified in December as thousands of workers at dozens of different factories held walk-outs for better pay. 

Since the onset of the strikes the security forces and factory owners have engaged in a brutal crack-down, with reports of more than 1,600 workers being fired, and police filing cases against 600 workers and trade union leaders.

Image: Bangladesh Protest

Photo credit: Solidarity Centre, via Flickr. 

At least 24 people are being detained. Two of them have reportedly been beaten and one of them was allegedly threatened with death in a “crossfire incident”.  There are reports of a worker “blacklist” that will make it hard for the fired workers to get work again.

Campaigners believe that the authorities are using the strikes as an excuse to crush the Bangladeshi worker’s movement more generally. Many feel that international concern generated by the Rana Plaza disaster has waned.


The cause of the strikes

The workers were demanding that the country’s minimum wage treble to 15,000 Taka a month ($191) - still below what is calculated by researchers as a “living wage” for Bangladesh.

The Bangladeshi minimum wage was last raised in 2013, in the wake of the protests that followed the Rana Plaza disaster, in which over a thousand people died. Since then the cost of living has increased over 6% per year, but the wage has stayed the same. Minimum wages have doubled in Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia over the same period.

About half of the garment workers receive the minimum wage. They say that because it is so low they are only able to survive by doing large amounts of overtime.


Dangers to factory safety

The crackdown is in danger of undermining the attempts to improve factory safety in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse. 

As we reported in our special report into the Fashion Industry, thousands of factories have been inspected under the safety schemes that were developed after the disaster. However, they are way behind schedule in implementing the corrective action plans they have been given. 

The participation of the workers is instrumental to ensuring that factory safety improvement plans are turned into action on the ground. Yet workers will not be able to participate meaningfully in health and safety committees if they are intimidated and fearful. 


The influence of Western clothing brands

Brands who source from the relevant factories include H&M, Gap, C&A, Inditex (Zara), Abercrombie & Fitch, PHV Corp (Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger) and VF (North Face, Jansport, and Lee). 

The Clean Clothes Campaign, the Bangladeshi Accord on Factory Safety (which represents 200 international clothing brands), and an additional coalition of 20 brands, wrote to the Bangladeshi government in January, calling for workers to be reinstated and the imprisoned released. 

However, campaigners are demanding that they do more. International clothing brands wield great power in Bangladesh as the industry generates 80% of the country’s export income. The brands purchased $26 billion in apparel from the country in 2016. 


More information 

The International Labor Rights Fund has released photos and brief biographies of nine of the arrested union leaders. 

Take Action

Sign the petition to call on brands whose clothes ae made at the factories. 



See our guide to Clothing Retailers to see which brands are failing garment workers. 








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