Dhaka

Biting the Hand

The plight of the garment workers in Bangladesh, mostly women,
is a sorry one. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh is not aware of the
fate poor women workers in her country are facing.

By Sabria Chowdhury Balland | June 2020

“When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.”

- Victor Hugo (French author, 1802-1885).
Bangladesh is the second largest apparel producer in the world, after China. The country is set to lose approximately $6billion of export revenues this fiscal year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is because more and more retailers and brands globally have cancelled orders.

Factories have closed, many without any prior warning to its employees and many without paying them. This has erupted into thousands of garment workers’ protests, ignoring social distancing rules and national lockdowns in order to demand wages during the crisis.

The police have talked to some factory owners who have promised to make payments but the chaotic and haphazard system or lack of it is striking. For an economy which is heavily dependent on its garments manufacturing and export industry, it is astonishing that the driving force of that industry, its workers, have barely any recourse to relief in times of crisis, a fact we have regrettably witnessed time and time again.

According to Textile Today, Bangladesh’s RMG (Ready Made Garments) exports for the fiscal year 2019 amounted to $34.13 billion, an 11.49% rise from the previous year. About a year ago, garment factory workers had to protest risking imprisonment and death, as law enforcement officers resorted to violence. The result was a government mandated increase of the minimum monthly wage to 8,000 BDT ($96). Surprisingly, Dhaka is one of the most expensive cities in South Asia, with an exponentially rising cost of living, thus rendering the salaries of garment workers barely fair. This was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world.

In March 2020, the government of Bangladesh launched a $558 million stimulus package to help companies in the crucial garments sector to pay their staff during the pandemic, but manufacturers claim this amount was insufficient.

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The writer is a teacher, political columnist and member of the US Democratic Party. She can be reached at sabriacballand
@gmail.com

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