A Victory for the Bangladeshi Garment Workers?
Finally, there has been significant progress in the Bangladeshi garments workers’ plight for justice. Bangladesh’s garment industry – known worldwide for its low wages and even worse working conditions – will extend its four million employees a 77% pay increase.
The Bangladeshi labor struggle reached a head earlier this year when more than 1,100 workers perished in a building collapse that could have been prevented if the companies utilized safety procedures and inspections. Unfortunately, many workers do not have the option to leave these jobs. Extreme poverty in parts of the country forces workers to accept even disgustingly low wages in the hopes of barely getting by.
The garment workers, predominately women with children to support, will now receive a minimum wage of 5,300 taka – roughly $68 in American currency – per month. The wage increase is the direct result of a multi-day labor strike in Bangladesh. Employees and activists were successful in shutting down hundreds of factories, leveraging the workers more power at the negotiating table.
Politics also played a role in the new raise. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, met privately with the corporations that ran the factories and encouraged them to offer their workers a much better salary. However, altruism may not be Hasina’s sole motivation in pushing for the raise. In the upcoming months, Hasina faces an re-election that she is not predicted to win. By helping to broker a deal for the garment workers, Hasina is likely to increase her poll numbers.
While the raise is definitely a step in the right direction, the workforce is split in its reaction. About half of the garment workers are pleased with this raise and have returned to work, declaring the offer a victory. However, the other half wants to continue striking, noting that the 77% wage boost still falls significantly short of the amount the laborers requested, about $100 US a month.
Theoretically, a 77% salary increase should seem more than fair, but it’s important to consider the rate from which the Bangladesh garment workers have started. Considering that factory workers in Bangladesh have been paid the lowest minimum wage in the world, it will still leave most of its workers in poverty. 77% more of “next to nothing” still leaves the workers with next to nothing.
Indeed, despite this significant raise, the garment workers will still be among the lowest compensated in the world. Sadly, most of the Bangladeshi workers would be ecstatic to receive the money paid to sweatshop employees in other parts of the globe.
Rest assured, the companies can afford to pony up for the current increased wages and then some. Bangladesh is the home of the world’s second most lucrative garment industry, amassing $20 billion annually. The ability to pay employees unconscionably low salaries surely played a role in motivating companies to set up shop in Bangladesh in the first place.