Bangladeshi garment workers fight for their rights, will you?

The garment industry accounts for more than 80% of impoverished Bangladesh’s £10bn annual export earnings (Jason Burke, The Guardian)

Millions of Bangladeshi workers took to the streets of Dhaka recently to protect their rights as workers only to find their basic human rights violated. Chilling images illustrate systemic violence and corruption, as workers went on strike to demand a better wage. Many of the images that emerged showcased children at the centre of the violent riots. Currently, the legal minimum wage for a garment worker in Bangladesh is 11½ ¢/ hour (an estimated $25/ month). The workers are asking for a 35¢/ hour minimum wage, as a result in a 100-200% increase in cost of living since 2006, when the current wage was set. It is estimated that the Bangladeshi garment industry is made up of more than 3 million workers.

[Image via The Guardian: A Bangladeshi policeman appears to be about to hit a child during clashes with garment workers in Dhaka. Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images]

According to Clothesource, the situation for workers will only worsen if buyers decide to pull out on account of the violence. As a result, they recommend buyers:

  • To continue buying from Bangladesh
  • To mistrust scare stories of imminent chaos
  • To continue pressure for decent wages
  • But to source from Bangladesh only garments that can survive extended production cycles.

Click here to learn the details on why.

Here is an excerpt of a testimony of a Bangladeshi Garment Worker, taken by the National Labour Committee:

“My name is Shana K–.  I am 18 years old and work as a sewing operator at the Meridian Garments factory.  I started working three years ago at several different sewing factories.

My duty at Meridian starts at 8:00 a.m. and regularly ends at 10:00 p.m. or 12:00 midnight.  There are also 14 to 15 all-night shifts [per month] to 3:00 a.m.  Management allows workers to leave at 8:00 p.m., to go home at eat supper and rest before starting the night shift at 10:00 p.m.  I don’t get any weekly day off.  On Saturdays, management allows us to leave work at 8:00 p.m.  On average, we can enjoy just one day off in two or three months.  I studied up to the 9th grade, but unfortunately, could not continue my studies due to financial hardship […]” Click here to keep reading Shana’s story.

According to the NLC, workers’ minimum wage demands breakdown as follows:

$0.35 an hour

$2.77 a day (8 hours)

$16.60 a week (48 hours)

$71.84 a month

$863.31 a year

Meanwhile, the Jakarta Globe has reported that Uniqlo has launched a partnership with Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus to develop and implement a “Grameen Uniqlo” and establish a textiles company that will make clothing, as well as source local materials: “[i]t “plans to hire up to 2,000 local people within three years, drawn mainly from the eight million borrowers of Yunus’s microcredit Grameen Bank, and train them to become financially independent by selling clothes.”

Back to the case at hand, the government of Bangladesh has claimed it will raise the salaries of garments workers by the end of this month. Negotiations are set to continue sometime between/around July 20th and July 27th.  We will have more on this story as it develops. For now, consider this final quote, and consider taking action in solidarity with the garment workers:

“Intense violence has been part of how garments are made in Bangladesh for some years now. It’s unlikely to get better soon: workers are the world’s worst paid, the country’s government has made a foolish public commitment to a timetable for better pay it simply cannot deliver on, its factory owners simply refuse to make any serious wage concession, and there may well be a germ of truth in businesses’ constant claims of a conspiracy to destroy the country’s factories.” (Clothesource)

Click here to sign the NLC’s joint letter to Walmart CEO Mike Duke, to support the human rights of garment workers in Bangladesh.

For more information human rights and Bangladesh, click here to read “The State of Human Rights in Bangladesh 2009” by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

Mary Hanlon

Mary is the founder, editor and lead contributor at Social Alterations. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, where she researches responsible fashion and transnational labour rights activism in the wake of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.

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7 thoughts on “Bangladeshi garment workers fight for their rights, will you?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Bangladeshi workers fight for their rights, will you? | Social Alterations -- Topsy.com

  2. Joe

    This is terrible, I really hope the business collaboration of UNIQLO and Muhammad Yunus starts to have a positive impact on these people and others follow in their footsteps. I believe the idea of helping people become financially independent by selling women’s and men’s clothing will be more beneficial for the individuals in the long run (rather than just giving them money or food for example).

  3. Priyesh

    It’s a shame violence is the only way workers voices are heard.
    I blogged on the issue too and found some of the stories i was reeading very disturbing!

    I’ve signed up to the NLC letter, lets hope things will get better.

  4. maryhanlon Post author

    Hi Priyesh! Nice to hear from you! We just launched a visual campaign to help create a space for the community to speak up and out on the issue, and stand beside the workers in Bangladesh. Here is the link to our flickr page. We are asking people to upload a photo with a message! It would amazing if you could spread the word and stand with us! http://www.flickr.com/photos/socialalterations more details on the project can be found on our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Social-Alterations/231945498184

    All the best to you and your team, Priyesh!

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