Bangladesh garment factories to stay shut amid worker protests

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

DHAKA, Bangladesh — About 250 Bangladesh garment factories will remain closed for a second day Thursday after workers protesting against low wages clashed with police.

The factories in the Ashulia industrial zone on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka will stay shut "for security reasons," the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said in a statement Wednesday, without elaborating.

Ashulia factories account for 35 percent of Bangladesh's garment output and supply to retailers including Hennes & Mauritz and Wal-Mart Stores, according to Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has the second-lowest wages in Asia after Myanmar and that cheap labor has spawned a $20 billion garment industry that supplies global retailers. Labor tensions have risen in recent months as factory owners and workers have failed to agree on salaries.

In September, thousands of protestors demanding higher wages forced the closure of 400 of the country's 5,000 clothing factories. The workers in the Anshulia industrial zone want a minimum monthly wage of about 8,000 taka ($103), Chowdhury Ashiqul Alam, a trade union spokesman, said by phone yesterday. The country's factory owners last week agreed to pay 4,500 taka.

The ascent of the South Asian nation's garment industry has been marred by industrial accidents and fires, putting pressure on international retailers to improve conditions. In April, the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza factory complex killed more than 1,000 people in the worst industrial accident in the country's history.

An October fire at a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killed at least seven people, renewing safety concerns.

Monthly manufacturing wages in Bangladesh average $74, only higher than the $53 workers receive in Myanmar, according to an annual Asia survey by the Japan External Trade Organization released in December. A government-appointed panel in November recommended a minimum wage of 5,300 taka, up from the current 3,000 taka.