Garments workers protest for their wages in Bangladesh

In the last seven years, Bangladesh’s garment industry has increased its annual revenue from US$ 19 billions to US$ 34 billions — a 79% rise. This makes the country the second largest exporter in the world, with the sector accounting for 80% of Bangladesh’s total export earnings. The industry provides employment to about 4 million workers of whom 90% are women.

Due to the pandemic of COVID -19, the government in Bangladesh announced a country lock down in March 26. All garment industry had to close their production. Workers had to go to their villages for survival without receiving their wages for March. Since then, more than US$ 3,5 billions worth of clothing orders have been canceled, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Factories were “under pressure” from brands to meet export deadlines and feared the risk that billions in orders could be diverted to competing operations in countries like Vietnam or China. So many of the country’s garment factories that had closed in late March, under pressure from retailers to fulfill outstanding export orders, resumed their operations, despite the nationwide lock down in place until May 5.

Hundreds of these factories resumed operations in the industrial areas of Gazipur and Ashulia, Chittagong, just outside the capital of Dhaka. Thousands of textile workers returned to work in factories in Bangladesh in the midst of a nationwide corona virus lock down, raising fears of an increase in the spread of the contagion. They are desperate to save their job, wages and benefits.

The Bangladesh Garments Manufacturing and Exporters Association has 46 factories, which did not pay worker’s salary for March, April, May. In this time of crisis, the labor leaders said, it should be the responsibility of the government, the owners and the buyers to stand by these workers. They said that if the management fail to pay the wages, the government should take responsibility. In addition, the owners and buyers must be kept under pressure to form an emergency fund for the workers.

Garments workers across Bangladesh have been protesting over unpaid wages after brands and retailers canceled orders and delayed payment to the suppliers. In June, over 500 industries had not paid March wages and thousands of garments workers staged demonstrations in front of their factories –- risking exposure to Covid-19 –- , demanding to know when they would receive their due wages. Small factories also have problems regarding bank loan facilities.

In solidarity with garment workers, WMW Bangladesh and other women organizations raised an online protest for justice, wages and job security. Due to worldwide lock down, WMW Bangladesh organized the campaign through social media on 24 April for garments workers rights and well being.

Report from WMW Bangladesh

We resist to live, we march to transform!
Liaison Newsletter – July 2020