New
November 12, 2023

Worker’s Rights in Bangladesh are at a Turning Point

Garment workers' protests in Bangladesh have reached a crucial turning point, in this major contributor to the global fashion economy.

Worker's Rights in Bangladesh: A Crucial Turning Point

In Bangladesh, a pivotal moment in the struggle for workers' rights is unfolding, casting a spotlight on the global garment industry and its complex dynamics. As the world's second-largest garment exporter behind China [1] and a cornerstone in the fashion justice movement, Bangladesh plays a crucial role in this global market. However, the recent turn of events has highlighted a dire need for change in labor conditions.

The Escalation of Protests

Protests advocating for garment workers’ rights in Bangladesh have taken a violent turn, with police employing tear gas and rubber bullets. Tragically, these clashes have already resulted in the deaths of three garment workers. A particularly heart-wrenching case is that of Anjuara Khatun, a 26-year-old machine operator, who was fatally shot in the head as police opened fire on a group of about 400 workers [2]. These protests are not only about labor rights but also pose larger questions about the government's aggressive police tactics [7].

Central to these protests is the demand for a living wage. Workers are currently earning a meager $95 per month, pushing them to demand an increase to $205. In response, the government has ratified a new minimum wage of $113, a move seen as insufficient in addressing the root issue of livable income [3].

A comparative analysis of garment workers’ wages across various countries highlights the stark disparities. Even after the recent increase, Bangladesh’s wages are fare below those of other countries that supply much of the world’s garments [4]. Not that this is minimum wage data, all from 2019, excluding Bangladesh, which was updated to reflect the recent increase.

The Wider Impact

The garment industry is the backbone of Bangladesh's economy, comprising 85% of its GDP. As the second-largest exporter in this sector and the fastest-growing market, Bangladesh's labor conditions have significant global repercussions. Major brands like Gap, H&M, and Zara heavily rely on Bangladeshi labor [8]. The volume of goods shipped to the U.S. alone is telling. As the below visualization shows [5], in just one year millions of kilograms of clothing arrive from Bangladesh every year, from just a few of the fashion giants.

While some fashion giants have publicly urged Bangladesh and suppliers to increase wages [6], their actions have been criticized as inadequate. Given the violent crackdowns by police and security forces, brands must move beyond PR statements and provide tangible support to the workers. Further, without explicitly targeting a specific wage increase that is in line with worker demands, these statements are useless.

How You Can Contribute

Individuals can play a role in supporting these workers. Donations to organizations like the Awaj Foundation, a grassroots labor rights NGO in Bangladesh, can make a meaningful difference. The foundation, representing over 600,000 worker members, is actively advocating for wage increases and assisting with workers' medical and legal expenses.

Individuals can also be mindful of the amount of clothing they consume, ideally by reducing it outright or learning more about sourcing for their favorite brands and finding ethical replacements. One way to do so is by using brand directories like Beaker’s (currently in a beta) and rates 300 apparel brands on ethics and sustainability.

Conclusion

The ongoing struggle in Bangladesh is a stark reminder of the challenges within the global garment industry and the need for a coordinated approach from governments, corporations, NGOs, and consumers to ensure fair and humane working conditions. This crisis is not just a local issue but a global concern that requires solidarity and action from all stakeholders.

References:

[1]- https://www.reuters.com/markets/asia/bangladesh-garment-export-growth-seen-slowing-normal-15-this-year-2022-08-10/

[2]- https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/nov/09/bangladeshi-woman-dies-police-open-fire-on-protesting-garment-workers

[3] - https://apnews.com/article/bangladesh-garment-workers-wage-increase-5d55f9ba52ef2a156069e86dad665662

[4] - https://thewire.in/labour/chart-garment-workers-low-wages

[5] - https://importyeti.com

[6] - https://www.reuters.com/business/retail-consumer/global-fashion-brands-say-raise-purchase-prices-bangladesh-made-clothes-2023-11-09/

[7] - https://monitor.civicus.org/explore/suppression-critics-persist-bangladesh-after-elections/

[8] - https://www.nurfashionbd.com/clothing-brands-made-in-bangladesh/

https://geographical.co.uk/news/bangladesh-garment-workers-protest-over-pay

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/jan/11/lidl-zara-owner-hm-next-bangladesh-suppliers