As consumers of garment products made in Bangladesh, we are shocked at the neglect of the workers and the conditions that have led up to the need for the recent strikes. According to the New York Times editorial of September 25, 2013, as many as 200,000 workers have been out in the streets for nearly a week. The country’s police and militia have been employed against them.
The demand of the garment workers is to raise the minimum wage from $38/month to $100/month. The counter offer by the factory owners has been $8/month raise.
$100/month is not a livable wage in Bangladesh. It represents the poverty wage, and the livable wage is twice that. Thus the workers demand is to come up to poverty level only. This is a modest demand.
Economists estimate that the asked for increase in the minimum wages represent:
• an inconsequential decrease in profits for Western retailers, should they absorb the full increase, since they typically enjoy 75% profit on the items manufactured in Bangladeshi factories.
• insignificant rise to the cost of a garment product for consumers in the west, should the full cost be passed to them. As a study by Asia Floor Wages show, “The labor cost in India and Bangladesh works out to a mere $0.64 on a shirt priced at $22.50. The cost to the brand would go up be just $0.64 if wages are doubled.”
• 25% decrease in the Bangladesh factory owner’s profit, should they be the ones to absorb the full impact.
A rationale often presented by factory owners in Bangladesh for not raising the wage is that such an increase would cost their factories out of Bangladesh. This is false, given that the minimum wage in nearby competing countries such as India and Vietnam are currently more than twice that of Bangladesh, and in fact some western retailers have written to the honorable Prime Minister of Bangladesh of their willingness to pay more for worker’s wages.
In addition to being below poverty level, wages are not indexed to inflation. This is a serious injustice in a country with runaway increases in the cost of living. It is the responsibility of the Government of Bangladesh and the BGMEA to ensure that workers do not have to take to the streets to demand that wages be adjusted for inflation.
4 million garment workers in Bangladesh, 80% teenage girls and young women, earn most of the export earnings of Bangladesh. Assuring these people of a living wage, security and dignity in the workplace is not only humane, it also will help the garments industry and the entire country. Better conditions for working people lead to the well being of all because they are the ones who build the country.
Therefore we demand that the Bangladesh Government and the BGMEA immediately:
• Implement the minimum wage demanded by the workers.
• Index wages to inflation so that workers do not have to mass on the streets ever again to demand their just wage.
• Allow the formation of unions and implement the right of collective bargaining.
• Conduct speedy trial of the owners of Tazreen and Rana plaza factories.
• Disburse adequate compensation to families of workers killed in the above factories and for the rehabilitation of those maimed.
We would like to assure retailers in the west, their agents the factory owners of Bangladesh, their patron the Government of Bangladesh, that we will continue to stand with the working people of Bangladesh and expose to the world the criminal machinations of the alliances against the workers, until such time as justice and dignity is restored to them.
(Petition submitted by Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Network, Boston - www.bangladeshWorkersSolidarityNetwork.org)