Mumbai: A global protest, also in Brussels and The Hague, wants to bring the Bengali government’s repressive measures against the local social unrest to light. Large international clothing chains are also putting pressure on the Bengali government to resolve the situation.
On strike for higher minimum wage
Labour unions IndustriAll and UNI launched the international campaign, backed by international NGO’s including the Schoneklerencampagne (Clean Clothes Campaign) and Human Rights Watch. Cause was the December strike to obtain higher minimum wages and the subsequent ruthless intervention from the government. To illustrate, a Bengali textile worker’s wage is the lowest in the world, at 63 euros per month since 2013, but they now want at least 177 euros.
For several days, the textile industry shut down more than 50 factories, leaving thousands of workers without an income, but the situation escalated after 10 days. Labour union leaders were arrested, 1,600 employees were fired and hundreds were brought to trial.
Barely any changes after Rana Plaza
The turmoil is proof that, four years following the Rana Plaza disaster and 1,100 deceased employees, the Bengali textile industry has not changed that much. “Buildings have become safer”, a worker admits in a local paper, “but we have not received any rights. We are no more than machines to our employers. Even when I am dying, they would still ask me to quickly finish 2 pieces of clothing.
Schoneklerencampagne’s Tara Scally asks national governments and the European Union to investigate the “flagrant breaches of labour union freedom and to take measures to deal with the situation. If we do not intervene, we give the Bengali government and the factory owners the idea that they can shut workers up and repress them with impunity.
Western clothing chains increasingly worried
Western clothing chains like H&M, C&A, Esprit, Gap, Next, Primark and Inditex (which owns brands like Zara) already wrote a letter to the Bengali prime minister last month, expressing their concern for the current situation. Everyone involved buys 28 billion dollars’ worth of textile in Bangladesh, about half of what the country exports in clothing.