Bangladesh: Cloth dyed in blood


Recent worker deaths in the Bangladeshi garment industry from police repression and from a factory fire.

After lengthy negotiations since 2006 a minimum wage pay scale for garment workers was finally implemented from November 2010(1). But on receiving their wage packets workers in many factories found less pay than expected. Some factories simply ignored the new minimum wage, elsewhere previously agreed arrears payments were missing. Often no account was taken of seniority – workers of many years experience were downgraded to the same level as newcomers. Some employers downgraded their whole workforce in the pay scale, so minimising their wage rises.

As workers realised the shortfall on Saturday, strikes and demonstrations began; in Dhaka, the capital, thousands of workers at Ashulia in Savar, Rupganj in Narayanganj and in Gazipur vandalised factories, blocked roads and fought cops. At Gazipur a dozen workers were injured in an attack by managers after demanding payment according to the new structure, while in Narayanganj ten managers were attacked by workers.

In Chittagong, the south-eastern port city, over 100 garment workers of Young One Group in the city’s Economic Processing Zone (EPZ) walked out to protest the new pay structure; bosses initially tried to confine the workers to the factory by locking the gates, but strikers forced their way into the streets. Marching through the EPZ, workers brought out other factories in solidarity. As the crowd swelled to 2,000, they ransacked several of the company’s units, beat up several company officials and locked them in the factory. The Executive Director and other management personnel were later hospitalised.

(Young One built the ‘world’s largest shoe manufacturing plant’ near Chittagong; the $100 million plant employs 30,000 people and produces 100,000 pairs of shoes a day.)

The unrest continued on Sunday; in and around Dhaka 3,000 workers fought cops and blocked roads – while the Chittagong EPZ was forced to close as 4,000 workers battled police. As clashes intensified police fired 600 rounds of rubber bullets, 150 teargas canisters and made numerous baton charges. Workers replied with missiles and sticks; roads were blocked with burning and vandalised vehicles while 11 factories and 20 other commercial buildings were ransacked.

This was the first major test of the Industrial Police unit recently formed to curb workers unrest – and they sought to show a firm hand. Cops eventually began using live rounds and shot dead four people. Eight others received bullet wounds. Across the country around 200 were injured, including 50 cops.

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