Bangladesh: Widespread garment worker protests over minimum wage increase; leads to mass dismissals

In September 2018, the Bangladesh government moved to raise the monthly minimum wage for garment workers - for the first time in five years - to Tk 8,000 (USD 96), up from the previous Tk 5,300 (USD 63). Many garment workers are dissatisfied with the increase, as workers rights organisations and trade unions had been calling for at least Tk 16,000. Others were unhappy about a discrepancy in the increase between junior and senior workers. While workers claim the increase is not enough to cover increased living costs, factory owners say they cannot afford to pay increased wages.

In January 2019, thousands of garment workers staged protests for increased minimum wages, particularly for those on mid-range wage grades who had effectively received no increase under the changes. Some protests were met with force by the authorities. After one violent clash, where police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds, one person was killed and 50 others injured.

In response, the government formed a 'tripartite committee' to review garment worker wages and on 13 January the committee agreed to modest wage increases to the lower and mid-range worker grades. The gross monthly wage of Tk 8,000 proposed in September remained unchanged. Following this development, manufacturers urged workers to return to work, however thousands of workers continued to protest, rejecting the pay hike as insufficient.

Mass dismissals as part of a widespread crackdown following the protests have seen approximately 12,000 workers dismissed, accused by factory owners of looting and vandalism. Several of the dismissed workers have also had charges brought against them, which have been described by rights groups as 'baseless'. 

Metro Knitting & Dyeing Mills Ltd. was named in a media report as one of the factories who had dismissed workers. In February 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Fast Retailing, who source from Metro Knitting, to respond. The response is included below. 

In a statement (included below), H&M - which sources from three factories that have dismissed workers - said it is "closely observing the situation" and the "well-being of the workers at our suppliers’ factories is a priority."

In March 2019, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited further brands sourcing from Bangladesh to respond to the mass dismissals and outline concrete steps being taken to remedy the situation. You can read the full story and responses, here.

In April 2019, a report by Workers Rights Consoritum found that the mass dismissals, violence and arrests following the protests were 'unlawful' and called on brands sourcing from Bangladesh to: withdraw criminal complaints filed in relation to the protests; reinstate and provide back wages to all workers terminated or forced to resign; and commit to a nondiscriminatory hiring process to end the blacklisting of workers based on their involvement in the protests.

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Article
28 January 2019

Bangladesh: Garment workers' wages rise due to protests

Author: The Daily Star, Bangladesh

"Workers' wages rise in 6 grades", 14 Janaury 2019

After eight days of labour unrest, the government yesterday [13 January] announced a revised pay structure for the garment sector, with a slight increase in both basic and gross wages in six of the seven grades. The gross hike ranges from a token Tk 15 [~ 0.56 USD] to a modest Tk 747 [~ 9 USD], effective from December last year and to be adjusted from February...Workers, protesting since January 6, had been demanding pay raise in three grades in particular -- grade 3, 4 and 5...

Even as a tripartite committee held almost a daylong meeting to reach a consensus on the hike, RMG [ready-made garment] workers continued their protest. On the other hand, factory owners threatened to shut down their units if the protestors did not go back to work...[The] president of the National Garment Workers Federation, said, “We welcome the revision and the new wage structure.” He was speaking on behalf of the trade union leaders who are on the tripartite committee. Reactions among the workers were mixed...

Incidents of labour unrest over the pay structure made headlines in early December...That protest died down ahead of the general election. However, when workers drew their wages for January, they spotted a huge disparity -- in some cases, their gross wages came down instead of going up, triggering the latest spell of protest. After yesterday's announcement, trade union leaders are hoping that the workers will join work...

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Article
28 January 2019

Bangladesh: ILO praises garment wage review

Author: bdnews24.com, Bangladesh

"ILO praises garment wage review", 14 January 2019

In the wake of raging protests by garment workers over the minimum wage scale, a special tripartite committee was formed by the government to review the wage board. On Sunday [13 January], the committee reached an agreement to increase workers’ minimum wages.

“We acknowledge the genuine efforts of all parties, led by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, to work towards setting minimum wages at an appropriate level and to reach a consensus,” [the] ILO country director for Bangladesh, said in a statement on Monday...While emphasising the importance of social dialogue in achieving social and economic stability, the ILO has also offered its assistance to the tripartite stakeholders in reviewing the minimum wage scale...

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Article
30 January 2019

Bangladesh: Thousands of garment workers sacked over minimum wage protests

"Almost 5,000 Bangladeshi garment workers sacked over strikes", 29 Jan 2019

Nearly 5,000 low-paid Bangladeshi garment workers sewing clothes for global brands have been sacked by factory bosses for taking part in strikes over wages earlier this month that turned violent…[and] disrupted the $30bn industry.

One worker was killed and more than 50 injured in clashes in Ashulia, a key industrial town outside Dhaka where clothes are sewn for retail giants H&M, Walmart and many others.

Police said thousands of factory workers accused of looting and vandalism during the protests have been fired, but unions have accused the industry of intimidation and a crackdown…

Unions say the real number fired is much higher, closer to 7,000, and that nearly 100 more have been arrested in roundups. Police would not comment on allegations of widespread arrests.

Salauddin Shapon, general secretary of industry body IndustriAll Bangladesh Council, said many workers were afraid to return to work…

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Article
4 February 2019

Bangladesh: H&M & Next comment on dismissals following garment worker protests

Author: Marc Bain, Quartz

"5,000 workers protesting low wages in Bangladeshi garment factories have been fired", 1 February 2019

...5,000 workers or possibly more have lost their jobs, following massive protests in the country to demand higher pay, in what workers’ advocates frame as retaliation for the protests, but industry representatives call a response to acts such as looting and vandalism. Among the factories that have fired workers, according to one workers’ rights group, are some that supply well-known foreign brands.

... It named as an example Metro Knitting and Dyeing Mills—a supplier to brands such as Next and H&M—which confirmed terminating 287 workers. The Daily Star reported that workers were given 45 days of wages and dismissed on the condition that cases filed against them over the protests would be dropped.

In a statement, H&M said it considers “freedom of association to be a non-negotiable human right. It is a key component of our Sustainability Commitment and a fundamental requirement for all our business partners.” The company added that is “deeply concerned by the recent events in the Bangaldeshi textile industry.”

Next said it is aware of the situation and its “directly employed audit staff on the ground in Bangladesh are currently investigating this matter.” It added that it is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which works to ensure fair supply chains and has a code of labor practices, and that the group is also aware of the claims...

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Article
5 February 2019

Bangladesh: Commerce Minister seeks ILO’s help for fair price of ready-made garments

Author: Mehedi Hasan, The Dhaka Tribune, Bangladesh

"Commerce minister seeks ILO’s help for fair price of RMG items", 3 February 2019

Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi yesterday urged the International Labour Organization (ILO) to play a role in raising the price of Bangladesh of readymade garment (RMG) items...

He said owners had to spend huge amount of money for modernization and safety work in RMG factories after the Rana Plaza incident, and implementation of new wages also pushed the expenditure further, but “buyers of RMG items have not increased the price in accordance with it”.

[The Minister] said Bangladesh’s RMG sector has reached this stage after overcoming adverse situations and the government is working sincerely to ensure reasonable wages to labourers...The ILO country director said that Bangladesh’s labour industry has attained visible development and hoped this progress will continue in future.

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Article
5 February 2019

Global labour rights group demands release of Bangladeshi garment workers

Author: NewAge, Bangladesh

"Global labour rights group demands release of arrested RMG workers", 5 February 2019

The United Steelworkers, one of the largest unions in North America..., has urged the Bangladesh government to release immediately all the garment workers and union representatives arrested on ‘trumped-up charges’ due to demonstration protesting against the inadequate minimum wage increase.

The USW...also demanded dropping charges against workers involved in demonstrations in December last year, as well as those charges that remained unsettled following the protests in 2016 demanding wage hike...

[A] letter was sent to Bangladesh high commissioner in Canada...The USW urged Bangladesh to respect the rights of workers working in the RMG [ready made garment] sector to living wages and to stop repression against the workers...[It] also requested Bangladesh’s Supreme Court to lift the restraining order and ensure that the Accord on Building and Fire Safety in Bangladesh can continue its operations for the duration of the 3-year transition agreement or until the designated oversight committee determines that the Remediation and Coordination Cell is capable of taking over its tasks.

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Article
6 February 2019

Bangladesh: Commerce minister calls for global brands to pay 'fair prices' for apparel to meet increasing cost of production

Author: The Daily Star

"Minister seeks fair prices for apparel", 6 February 2019

Bangladesh demanded fair prices for garment items from the US retailers and brands as the local apparel exporters spent billions of dollars to strengthen workplace safety that increased the cost of production. Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi made the call during a meeting with US Ambassador in Bangladesh...

“The cost of production has increased by 25 percent to 30 percent over the last five years due to remediation of the garment factories as per the recommendations of the Accord and Alliance, two foreign agencies for building inspection.”..

The minister said, for instance, the t-shirt which was supposed to be produced at a cost of $1 earlier now costs as high as $1.25 or $1.30 a piece. “So, we can demand around 25 percent to 30 percent rise in the price of garment items now.”

“We will hold a meeting with the CEOs of almost all major retailers and brands like Walmart, Inditex, Target and Primark soon to urge them to increase the prices of garment items as we spent a lot of money to fix the loopholes in the factories,” the minister said.

Munshi also said the buyers always demand higher compliance at the factory level, but they do not want to increase the prices of the products...

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Article
8 February 2019

Bangladesh: H&M responds to sacking of garment workers following minimum wage protests

Author: bdnews24.com

"H&M responds to sacking of Bangladesh garment workers, says 'deeply concerned'", 7 January 2019

The clothing giant issued a statement... [following] media reports that the factories sacked thousands of workers for joining the protests for better wages, which included suppliers of H&M.

“We understand garment workers have recently been dismissed from three factories that produce for H&M group amongst others, and we are closely observing the situation to ensure that the documents and agreements that have now been signed are acknowledged and approved by all parties, outlining valid information and appropriate grounds for termination of employment,” H&M said.

“Even though we understand and fully sympathise with the garment workers’ frustrations, we cannot encourage vandalism and violence as a means to an end.” “We strongly encourage peaceful conflict resolution for all parties in all situations and see ourselves as an enabler to make that happen.”...

“Workers who chanted slogans or left factories and joined in processions to demand wage increases, and the ones who have any link to trade bodies, are now losing jobs,” ... head of the Bangladesh Garment Workers’ Trade Union Centre [said]...

At least 7,580 workers from 27 factories had been laid off in recent weeks, according to...head of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation.

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Company response
8 February 2019

Fast Retailing's response

Author: Fast Retailing

Respecting human rights and ensuring fair working conditions are a top priority for Fast Retailing. In the Fast Retailing Group Code of Conduct for Production Partners, we place great emphasis on working conditions, and respect for worker rights throughout our supply chain, including freedom of association.

Immediately after being informed by our partner factory of the dismissals at the Metro Knitting factory in Bangladesh, Fast Retailing deployed an audit team to evaluate the situation and to communicate with key stakeholders. We learned that factory management and employees reached a legal severance agreement and that the dispute has now been solved. We also confirmed that all necessary actions were taken by the factory management to withdraw the police case filed against the workers.

Article
10 February 2019

Bangladesh: How little H&M would have to raise t-shirt prices to pay its Bangladesh factory workers a living wage

Author: Oliver Pechter, Business Insider Nordic

"Here’s how little H&M would have to raise t-shirt prices to pay its Bangladesh factory workers a living wage", 1 June 2017

The factory workers producing Swedish clothing retailer H&M’s clothes make on average SEK 750 krona ($86) per month. Meanwhile, a living wage in Bangladesh is more than double, SEK 2083 ($239). 

This according to Sasja Beslik, Head of Sustainable Finance at Nordea Wealth Management, whose team has crunched the numbers behind H&M's supply chain vs. its retail prices. Beslik concludes that a fairly small hike in clothing prices could help pay living wages to the company's Bangladeshi workers...

If shirt prices were to go up 2,88 krona [$0.33] in stores, H&M could pay double salaries to factory workers. If prices then would rise a further 2,18 krona [$0.25], H&M could pay out living wages to the workers in Bangladesh...If the factory workers received a living wage, the shirt would cost 179 krona ($20,50) – that is, 5 krona [$0.55] more than the current price...

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