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Bangladesh’s Garment Worker’s Strike: The Story So Far

Garment workers in Bangladesh have been on strike protesting against low wages since October 23, 2023, leading to vandalism, arson, and the suspension of over 600 factories across the capital city, Dhaka. The ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh accounts for about 4 million workers, while Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of fast fashion. Bangladesh earned around $55 billion in exports in 2022, 85% of which accounted for fast fashion. It also has a global share market of 8% in fast fashion.


The top importer is H&M, followed by brands like Zara, Levi's, Walmart, Marks & Spencer, and so on. Most of the garment workers working for such brands are also rural women who were only getting paid 8,000 BDT, which was the last revised income back in 2018. Due to the strike, brands may be facing a pause in production, but no official statement from the brands has been made s o far.


Unlike most countries that follow a universal wage system, Bangladesh follows a system that fixes minimum wages for each sector of the economy. A revision to the income was to be made every five years.


Sheikh Hasina's government had proposed a 56.25% raise in income but was rejected by the RMG workers, whose demands were 23,000 BDT. In a report in 2023, several economists claim that to meet their monthly expenses, RMG workers should be receiving around 33,368 BDT. The garment worker's union states that its members have been hit hard by inflation. Workers claim that due to the increase in the cost of living, they have not been able to provide for their families and that the pay increase would help them keep them from starving.


In a statement, Kalpona Akter, the head of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, said, “This is below our expectations”. 


The protest against inadequate wages has seen clashes between the police and the activists, where the police have resorted to force, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. The clashes happened likely due to the fact that factories tried to reopen in Ashulia, where 10,000 workers tried to prevent their colleagues from joining work.


Several accounts from the worker's side claim that they were brutally attacked by armed men upon entering the factory to start the day’s work. Factory owners and police have responded to the protests with violence. Three workers were reportedly killed when the protests first started last month. The police also issued blanket charges against 11,000 workers in connection with violent protests demanding a higher minimum wage.


The way Sheikh Hasina's government handles this issue is detrimental to the upcoming elections in January. This protest also coincides with the one where Sheikh Hasina was asked to resign before the elections in January. 


Sheikh Hasina has said that workers who are striking may have to return to the villages if they cause more harm to the factories, followed by claiming that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party is responsible.


Kalpona Akter hopes that the government will, once again, meet the demands of the workers, as they did in 2013 and 2018 since the demands are more than justified.


Edited by: Vicky Muzio


Photo Courtesy: Image by Drazen Zigic


 


 


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