Why  Garment Workers in Bangladesh are on Strike

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Bangladesh  is a major  producer of garments supplying to world’s top brands  such as H & M, Lewis, Gucci, Zara and many others. Nearly 4.0 million workers, mostly women toil in 3,500 garment factories supplying nearly 60 percent of  global trendy garments.   A major resource  of exports, Bangladesh earns earns nearly  $ 55 billion from exports annually.

However, the  working conditions of the workers are dire  work day  stretching  ten hours, with  a meagre  monthly pay of  Taka 8,300 or $ 75. Though 85 percent of workforce are  women, they lack job security, bonus,  work safety insurance or maternity leave and other minimum benefits. The  workers are on strike or the last two weeks demanding  wage hikes.  Fresh  in the memory the  horrific Rana Plaza accident in Dhaka, 2013, where a building buildings collapsed and On 24 April 2013, 1,134 people were killed and at least another 2,000 injured in the collapse of a nine storeyed garment factory building crammed with  thousands of workers. The horrific  incident in Dhaka resulted in  death of  1100 workers, mostly  women and another 2,500 seriously injured.  Even after a decade, majority of affected families have not been paid any compensation.  As current  inflation is touching 10 percentage points, prices of  food, house rents have nearly doubled during the last   three years. As the Taka  depreciated by 30 percent against the US dollar since last year, the  cost of living soared and   wages  are stagnant say the Union leaders. As  Labour ministry authorities, factory owners and  garment exporters are reluctant to  demands, workers  continue to protest and even in hotspots like Ghazipur turned violent. Two workers were  killed in  protests and  four factories  torched the  situation is becoming  tense.

A few days back I walked in to a H & M fashion outlet in Hyderabad and cost of a trendy grey cotton shirt Rs. 1950.  A worker, in a typical garment sweatshop stretches nearly 60 shirts a day. Amazing the monthly salary of a worker is less than half the price of this cotton shirt. The cotton is produced locally and the labour wages are low, but the top global garment fashion brands  earn tens of billions of dollars. And no comments from these global Multinational firms on workers demands.

While the Trade unions  are demanding  to triple the wages, the labour ministry and factory owners are ready to increase only by 25 percent. And  the  worker  are not agreeing and  the  strike is continuing.

From the textile mills of  Liverpool since the beginning of industrial revolution,  the  conditions in sweatshops are  alive  in garment  factories of  developing countries. Capitalism in today’s neoliberal  era  is  making  huge profits by extracting higher  surplus value  while keeping primitive work  conditions. Strangely,  the global  top garment  lobby is silent on workers protests and even  statements on  minimum wages, fair working  conditions they want are limited to statements with no implementation on the floors of sweatshops.

Public in West  should  come in support of  garment workers sourced to top fashion brands.

Dr. Soma Marla is a scientist based in Hyderabad, India

The article was published in the countercurrents.org.