Amid violent protests about 300 garment factories in Bangladesh shutdown on Monday. Over 50,000 Angry Workers blocked roads, set vehicles on fire and rioted with police for a third day over their demands of a minimum monthly wage of $103.
The last time workers fought back for their rights was in 2010 when months of demonstrations forced the government and factory owners to agree to a minimum monthly wage of $38.
Bangladesh has a $20-billion garment export industry accounting for 77% of Bangladesh's exports, making it the world’s second-largest garment exporter. The industry employs roughly 4 million workers who are over worked and underpaid.
In June 2013 the government set up a panel to review salaries and the unions’ demand to have a $100 minimum monthly wage. The factory owners refused the proposed changes claiming they could only raise wages by 20 percent due to the uncertain global economy.
The European Union (EU) and the United States threatened punitive measures in order to press Dhaka to improve worker safety standards after a deadly building collapsed killing over 1000 people in April 2013.
It is considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history.
There is a heated international debate about who is to blame for the deplorable conditions that workers in these factories face. One side argues that the low overheads keep the cost price competitive even though much of the final product is sold at a considerably high profit margin – sometimes under expensive brand names.
Despite these deadly incidents and numerous warnings from the international buyers, business continues as usual and the countries garment sales have soared.
There have been fires at 50 factories in Bangladesh in the last ten months and there is evidence that factories forge records to conceal the long hours and dangerous conditions workers must endure.
The poverty level in Bangladesh (with 31.51% of the population below poverty level) is one of the reasons why the people are bound to work in these factories.
For the workers themselves, tragic accidents are viewed as part of the job, which is why most of them return the next day to clock in their punch cards.
But not any more it seems.
With increased pressure from buyers and the workers taking a stand for their rights we hope that the fate of the Bangladeshi garment worker takes a different path.
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