Bangladeshi garment workers arrested for protesting

Protesters at a rally in January in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2017. Garment workers have been demonstrating since December to protest low wages. Credit Maher Sattar for The New York Times.

Protesters at a rally in January in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is the second-largest ready-made garment exporter in the world after China, and there is a long way to go yet for factory conditions and wages to be more secure. Bangladeshi garment workers who have been protesting basic rights are being arrested by police from their homes at night, forcing them into silence and stranding their dependent families.

With inflation rising as much as 10 percent a year, wages in comparison have only risen twice in the past decade, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. The minimum wage in Bangladesh is just 32 cents an hour.

“Its factories are efficient for some of the same reasons that they have been deadly: overcrowded buildings, limited oversight and a government that has historically repressed workers’ efforts to organise and fight for better conditions.”

Brands associated with the factories have pushed for better conditions for the workers who make their clothes in light of the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013, which killed more than 1,100 people. They have notably formed coalitions in recent years and have sent letters to Bangladesh’s prime minister urging the government to take action to protect workers. However, since this recent unrest began in December 2016, detentions, arrests and firings of workers are raising questions and undermining any progress they have made.

In an ernest attempt to figure out what can be done and how change can happen, is it a catch-22? If we see the brands as the ones who should be continuously pushing for change, paying a higher price per garment for example, will this even trickle down to the garment workers at all? Will the factory owners keep this as an increase in their profit, since they too are struggling with running costs?

“Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a trade association that represents factory owners, said factories, too, had come under pressure: Costs have risen 17.5 percent annually for the last two years, he said, even as global clothing prices have decreased.”

Will real change only occur when the powers that be themselves change?

“The police have accused the activists of inciting vandalism and other crimes, and several factories have pressed charges against many of their workers… But labor rights groups say the government is trying to scare workers into silence by detaining innocent people.”

Read the full article in the New York Times, written b

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Samee Lapham

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