The garments industry riots in Bangladesh

The readymade Garments Industry is the key export earning sector for Bangladesh, which brings to this developing country $6 billion yearly revenue. The industry has over 4,000 export oriented factories and thousands more small scale sub-contractors which employ nearly three million workers most of whom are women (80%).

All hell broke loose last weekend as a riot broke out in and around the capital Dhaka city when a garments worker was shot in Savar, an industrial zone 30km away from Dhaka as police was trying to control the angry protesters. The death sparked more violence as thousands of garments workers took to the streets in Savar, creating chaos and huge traffic deadlocks around the capital. A section of 800-1000 violent protesters with sticks lead by motorcycle processions resorted to widespread damage of vehicles, attacked about 300 garments factories, and torched many of them. Widespread lootings were also reported and finally extra security forces were deployed to prevent this from going further.

From the Washington post: “One thing I can say that we love our machines because they feed us and protect us from starvation. How can one with a sane heart destroy them?” – female worker Masuda Begum.

The Bangladeshi bloggers had different opinions on this issue. Change Bangladesh Blog wonders are Bangladeshis stupid enough to kill the duck laying golden egg?

In Suchinta blog there is one video clip from the ATN News on the attack on Garments Industries, which provides visuals of the rioting and the views of the owners and the government. Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the owner’s association claimed “This is part of a conspiracy to ruin the nation's economy.” They and the government are pointing to political manipulation citing that almost all protesters were men while the majority of the workers in the industry are women.

Shafiur shades a light that there is no one union, one industry scenario here. The workers unions fall in line behind party politics and no doubt they can easily be exploited by the confrontational political parties. Like some parties were dumb enough to blame neighboring India behind this. All these beating around the bush neglect the prime issue, the exploitation of the workers. He also blames the Garments owners for demanding the use of force to deal with the issue.

Rumi of Drishtipat supports the workers cause but is troubled with the anarchy the protests produced.

Journalist Tasneem Khalil points to the fact that the workers are deprived from fair wage, fair working hour arrangements, weekly holiday, maternity leave etc. The monthly minimum wage for Bangladesh’s garment workers was some $33 ten years ago, but that came down to $16 in real value due to devaluation of Bangladesh Taka against dollar. The labor organizations are pressing for increasing the workers’ minimum monthly wages to Tk 3,000 (18 cents an hour). Owners of RMG factories have subverted a government plan to fix a minimum national wage for workers in the private sector and continue to pay one of the lowest remuneration packages in the world.

In my opinion, it is true that currently the wages are low but this small wages are also blessings for most of the workers as they would have no option to fall victim to more abuse as housemaids if there were no garments factory jobs. Using this leverage, the owners have been able to continue the slavery and exploitation. Its a pity that the government failed to uphold the rights of the workers by ignoring the minimum wages demand. The other political parties are also guilty to the same extent as they also do not fight for these causes. In reality, Bangladeshi politics are held ransom by leaders, who do not stem from the workers community but are wealthy entrepreneurs.

The exploitation issue actually starts with the globalization and the growing competition.

‘Dateline NBC’ investigates: In Bangladesh, a female worker, Masuma gets more like 17 cents for sewing as much as 80 stripes on pants in an hour, a perfectly legal wage, and more than many Bangladeshis like her earn. But she can barely live with that wages. If she was paid 25 cents an hour instead of 17, a 50 percent raise, she could lead what she considers a decent life. When a Walmart customer in US was asked in front of Masuma, whether she would by the pant (selling price $12.84) if it was 8 cents more, she declined. One Bangladeshi garments executive claims: A few years back, I told Wal-Mart, “Give me one cents more a piece, one cent. I will use that money for these poor people.’ Wal-Mart’s reply was, ‘No, give us two cents less.’ However consumers in the global economy seem to have no objection to Wal-Mart CEO’s $27,207,799 pa salary for encouraging such exploitation.

Actually the Bangladeshi entrepreneurs have also little option and are forced to keep the wages low in order to survive. It is like the master-slavery chain. Whether we accept it or not, we all are chained humans, there is a master above us and we are a master of someone. And the exploitation continues. The truth is no hero or revolution is going to break the chain saving us anytime soon.


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