Saturday, November 13, 2010

On a treadmill at $10 a week: garment workers and Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the prime example of the durability of sweatshops in a booming industry. On November 1 workers in the country’s ready- made garment industry got a raise in their minimum wage to $43 a month. As in other Asian countries, the official minimum wage generally is the actual wage paid to most workers.

Before November 1 Bangladesh’s 3,400,000 garment workers, mostly women, were the worst paid garment workers in the world. After months of struggles for a living wage, they are still the worst paid garment workers in the world.

Meanwhile, the latest annual export earnings of the industry came to $12,600,000,000. The industry is also a vehicle for capital flight, chiefly through over-invoicing,

Garment factory owners in Bangladesh claimed they could not afford a wage increase larger than finally imposed. But a new report, quoting a Dhaka-based World Bank economist, said that labor costs “typically constitute one to three percent for garments produced in the developing world,” indicating that the new minimum could be absorbed without a price increase.

The plight of the country’s garment workers is described at length in that report, the work of the International Labor Rights Forum and Sweatfree Communities. So have dozens of reports over the past two decades by the AFL-CIO, the International Trade Union Congress, the International Labor Organizations, Human Rights Watch, human rights groups in Bangladesh itself, and various other groups.

But Bangladesh remains on a treadmill. The 2010 report of the UN Development Program ranks Bangladesh low on its human development index – 129th out of 169 countries.

I’ve written countless articles about Bangladesh over the years. One, from the May 4, 2005, issue of my Website, is titled “Greed Kills, and Greed Pays” at

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