Bangladesh Labor Protests: This Is Just the Beginning of Worker Unrest
Source Newsroom: Cornell University
Tasha Lenise Lewis, apparel industry expert and professor of fiber science and apparel design at Cornell University, discusses why the recent labor unrest in Bangladesh is only the beginning of labor activism there.
“Bangladesh’s apparel industry workers and their collective demands for a higher wage are clear indicators of widespread worker discontent, not just a single factory with problems.
“The protests bring to mind the wave of labor reforms that came about in the United States after the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911. The Rana Plaza factory collapse is much larger in terms of loss of life compared to the Triangle fire, but both tragedies highlighted the general lack of regulation in domestic apparel factories and we may be witnessing just the first wave of organized worker demands for improved working conditions.
“As a developing nation, Bangladesh relies heavily on apparel manufacturing for economic growth (16 percent of its GDP) and employment (4 million people), so there will likely be ongoing disputes between workers and factory owners to reach an agreement. The workers currently make the equivalent of $38 a month and the proposed wage hike of 20 percent by factory owners would only provide about $8 more per month, since owners argue that their costs of doing business are also rising. Workers are seeking about $103 a month to keep pace with inflation.
“The main reason Bangladesh is attractive as a global sourcing location is the extremely low minimum wage. Now that workers are demanding an increase, this will have implications for the country’s competitiveness as a sourcing location. The fallout from these protests may mean that some apparel brands may begin to look for sourcing alternatives outside of the country due to perceived instability.
“The worker strikes, if ongoing, can impact anticipated delivery dates for retailers manufacturing in Bangladesh particularly as the holiday shopping season approaches.”