Bangladeshi Women Garment Workers Strike for $72 per month

updated August 16

Bangladesh’s 3.5 million apparel workers—who are mostly women—left their shops and took to the streets in August to demand that the minimum wage increase to $72 per month.

The current wage of 12 cents an hour, the lowest in the world, is a major draw for garment brands to source manufacturing from Bangladesh, with apparel making up over 75 percent of all exports.

The government agreed to increase the minimum wage to $43 per month, but this is not enough to match recent hikes in food prices.

As protests and strikes continue, the government of Bangladesh and garment companies are attacking unions and non-profits that support workers.

In recent weeks 20,000 workers have stopped production at five garment factories while 12,000 workers marched in Dhaka and surrounding towns.

Management temporarily closed 12 other factories, fearing further disruption. More than 100 workers have been injured in clashes with police. Bangladeshi authorities have brought charges of breaking law and order against more than 4,000 workers.

Authorities have paid special attention to 40 labor leaders they’ve named as “provocateurs,” who are now in hiding. One such organizer, Aminul Islam, was detained by security forces on June 16. Under torture and death threats against him and his wife, Islam signed a confession to “inciting worker unrest.”

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Police are harassing labor leaders’ families and colleagues, says the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). The government recently stripped the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity of its legal status while threatening to tighten security around international labor activists who have gone to Bangladesh to investigate or “get involved with trade unions.”

Kapona Akter, a leader with the center who recently connected with U.S. activists at the 2010 Labor Notes Conference and meetings with United Students Against Sweatshops, was arrested Thursday according to ILRF. The group reported Friday it is worried that Kapona and other activists will be tortured while in jail.

The BCWS, which has played a key role in recent protests, has worked with unionists in the U.S. and Britain to support workers in Bangladesh’s $12 billion export garment industry.

As authorities intimidate workers and leaders, undermine their organizations, and segregate Bangladeshi workers from concerned international allies, online solidarity is urgent. Please visit the ILRF website to tell Bangladeshi authorities to stop the witch hunt and respect workers’ calls for a wage they can live with. Join a second appeal to take action against the corporations that buy from a factory that has been targeting BCWS.

Wal-Mart is the Bangladeshi garment industry’s largest customer. USAS is calling on the retail behemoth to pressure their main supplier in Bangladesh, the Nassa Group, and the government to reinstate the BCWS' legal status and stop attacking and torturing labor activists like Kapona Akter and Aminul Islam.

In addition, ILRF is fundraising to help post bail for jailed activists. Donate here.

Extensive background on the situation can be found here.