Fourth worker dies in wage protests after succumbing to injuries from police bullets, while brands fail to make firm commitment to uplift prices to facilitate wage increase; incl. co. comments
"In Bangladesh, ‘Unprecedented’ Violence Over ‘Unsustainable’ Wages", November 14 2023
A fourth garment worker is dead in Bangladesh amid .... escalating labor unrest, which has seen tens of thousands of factory employees violently clash with security forces over what they regard as an insufficient increase in the minimum wage.
Local media reported that Jalal Uddin, a 42-year-old supervisor at Islam Garments in Gazipur, died over the weekend after succumbing to injuries from stray bullets during an altercation between demonstrators and police last Wednesday. It was during that same clash that 26-year-old machine operator Anjuara Khatun was killed after police reportedly opened fire at a group of protestors. Their deaths add to a toll that includes Md. Rasel Howlader, a 25-year-old Design Express maintenance machinist who was allegedly killed in Gazipur by police late last month, as well as Imran Hossain, a 32-year-old ABM Fashion worker who died after arsonists of unclear affiliation set fire to his factory, also in Gazipur, later that day.
Some 130 factories in the hotbeds of Ashulia, Mirpur and Gazipur in and around Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital and industrial hub, have been closing, reopening and then closing again in response to the growing strife, which began in October as minimum wage negotiations were taking place over the then-floor pay of 8,000 Bangladeshi taka ($72).
....Fazlul Hoque [a factory manager] said that suppliers have very little bargaining power, whereas buyers can pick and choose who they want to work with, meaning that it’s the “responsibility of the buyers to come forward and offer proactively higher prices.”
The few brands that responded to Sourcing Journal’s requests for comment—among them, Adidas, H&M Group, Levi Strauss & Co. and Puma—say that they realize the role responsible purchasing practices play in facilitating fair compensation, even writing letters through their multistakeholder organizations expressing as much. Even so, while Ali previously told Sourcing Journal that a “handful” of brands, including H&M, have privately reached out to suppliers to say they’ll be implementing blanket increases in their prices, none have publicly and explicitly said that they will cough up more.
“What we need is brands to increase prices to support minimum wages that meet the most basic needs of workers,” said Ayesha Barenblat, founder and CEO of fashion advocacy group Remake. She pointed to BGMEA data revealing how the prices that buyers pay for items like T-shirts and trousers have barely budged over the past decade, even though the cost of everything else has gone up.
Barenblat said that brands also need to iterate the importance of freedom of association with Bangladeshi stakeholders during this “uptick of violence.” And, with workers desperate for financial support due to factory closures and mounting medical and legal costs, brands need to take a “lot more action.”
Actions that brands can take, she said, include reviewing production schedules and adjusting delivery timeframes as needed; ensuring that their costing and purchasing departments are ready when the new minimum wage kicks in next month; and continuing to publicly support wage progress for workers in Bangladesh through union engagement and collective bargaining, regardless of where the minimum wage lands.
There’s still time for brands to get involved, Narayanasamy said, adding that there are now 14 days for the wage board to receive responses.