Garment manufacturers closed at least 150 factories in Bangladesh ‘indefinitely’ on Saturday. This is according to the local Bangladeshi police, who have filed a complaint against 11,000 employees of the factories due to violent protests. Thousands of factory workers in Bangladesh have been protesting for a higher minimum wage for weeks. Three people were killed and dozens were injured during the protests. Seventy factories were looted or damaged.
On Thursday, a protest of 15,000 people even led to a direct confrontation with the police, after which the crowd looted several factories. These are the most violent protests since the Rana Plaza disaster of 2013.
Police tell news agency AFP that these are factories in large industrial cities Ashulia and Gazipur, north of the capital Dhaka. Manufacturers fear further strikes and therefore rely on an applicable labor law. This makes closure possible on the grounds of ‘illegal strikes’.
The Bangladesh police often prosecute thousands of people after major protests and political violence. According to critics, this is a tactic to tackle people with differing opinions. Human rights groups have already warned that such mass cases against thousands of unidentified people give police the power to target innocent protesters.
The garment factories are an important pillar of the Bengali economy. Bangladesh’s approximately 3,500 garment factories account for about 85 percent of the country’s annual exports, worth $55 billion. Four million people work in the sector, the vast majority of whom are women. Major brands such as Levi’s, H&M, Primark and Zara order products from the factories. Working conditions generally leave much to be desired.
Monthly wage of 70 euros
Until recently, workers in clothing factories in Bangladesh had a monthly salary of 70 euros. On Tuesday, the organization representing factory owners offered an increase to around 106 euros. Factory employees rejected that offer and are demanding a minimum wage of 195 euros to pay for increased costs of food, rent and healthcare.
Eighteen major clothing brands sent a joint letter to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh last month, calling for peaceful talks on a minimum wage for textile workers so that they can ‘earn their livelihood’.(blg, ntam)