Desk Report: A report published by Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) titled “Banning Hope: Bangladesh Garment Workers, Seeking a Dollar an Hour Face Mass Firings, Violence, and False Arrests” has drawn our attention. BGMEA wishes to clarify its position on a few issues.
First of all, we welcome and appreciate WRC to view the sector with the critical lens that employs 4 million workers. Any data and research is always helpful to monitor the industry and steer it to the next level of compliance.
However, in this particular report of WRC, five case studies were highlighted, based on which BGMEA actively initiated independent enquiry. But the over generalization in reporting ‘malpractices’ must kindly be avoided in the future. A few deviations do not define the industry which is glorified by the contribution of 4 million workers. If the welfare of labor is our entire target (we would like to believe so), we would like to urge WRC to engage in a collaborative study with BGMEA so that we can jointly address the issues and correct errors when they happen.
However, a few observations regarding the report are as follow:
The wage debate: The WRC report raises the issues regarding wages which mostly remain controversial. The minimum wages in Bangladesh was reviewed by an independent Minimum Wage Board which comprised of representatives from workers, employers, neutral body (University of Dhaka) and a district judge as an independent chair. The committee took into cognizance all the factors for determining minimum wages as set out in the Section-141 of the Bangladesh Labor Act 2006, undertook extensive stakeholder consultation and finally recommended the new pay structure. WRC report only brought the allegation of the new minimum wage to be insufficient as per the workers expectations and living wages (though there is no globally accepted definition of living wage), but ignored a number of facts which cannot be isolated from the reality. For instance, the economic status and level of income of people in a certain country are major factors behind its minimum wages. While the needs of the workers and the cost of living are to be taken in to account, other economic factors like level of productivity, the desirability of attaining and maintaining a high level of employment, and economic status and average income level of people should be considered with equal importance. Moreover, price is an important factor which never gets due attention in such reports while raising concern regarding sufficiency of minimum wages. We should keep in mind that high minimum wages may have adverse consequences on employment.
Pre-election violence: The minimum wage protest erupted at a time when the political parties in Bangladesh were preparing for the national election. Normally the pre-election situation remains sensitive and chaotic, and the labor intensive RMG industry is usually remains vulnerable to the treat of mass agitation of any form to deteriorate the law and order situation to secure political gain. This time sensitive feature of the report could have been highlighted.
The report mentioned that between 7,500 and 11,600 workers were fired following the January 2019 strikes. We found that the number is based on estimates with no verifiable sources. Moreover, the figure was not substantiated.
Ataur and Sabuj, two workers of Saybolt, were mistakenly arrested by police in a case filed by Mahmud Fashions Ltd. The factory management is in the process of withdrawing the case against them.
Reference to the allegation of termination of 1200 workers at Abanti Colour Tex, we are checking with the factory management whether proper procedure was followed or not.
Furthermore, regarding the specific cases mentioned in the WRC report, we have requested the factory authorities to provide us the CC camera footage which we are ready to freely share. In case there are any anomalies in the reports of the factories that we have asked for, we will work with them to rectify.
Once again while organization like WRC remains vigilant about the existing labor practices in the industry, we sincerely urge them to view BGMEA as their partner while we work together with the fullest trust and confidence.
We at BGMEA strongly believe in the sustainability of the sector and welfare of workers and improvement of their livelihood. We look forward to working together.