Bangladesh shuts garment factories

June 22, 2010
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, DHAKA, Jun 22 – Bangladeshi manufacturers shut all 700 garment factories in a major industrial zone on Tuesday after days of violent protests over wages by tens of thousands of workers.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, which represents the country\’s factory owners, said the protests had created "panic and anarchy" and forced the factories to close indefinitely.

"In three days, over 50 factories have been vandalised by protesters making it impossible for manufacturers to meet buyer deadlines, leading to millions of dollars of losses," BGMEA vice-president Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin told AFP.

"We cannot run our factories — our security is inadequate to protect us from the rampaging protesters. Our survival is at stake," he said, adding the unrest threatened the country\’s reputation as a garment producer.

The latest protests over low wages began on Saturday when 50,000 workers clashed with police, turning the manufacturing hub of Ashulia into a battlefield.

Police said dozens were injured but unions put the toll at at least 100.

Bangladeshi workers have been demanding wages of at least 5,000 taka (70 dollars) per month. The current minimum wage is just 25 dollars.

On Monday, tens of thousands of labourers walked out of factories and staged a four-hour protest in Ashulia, situated 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the workers who retaliated by pelting stones and rocks at the law-enforcers. Thousands also went on the rampage, ransacking factories and torching at least four cars.

This week\’s violent protests follow a series of labour disputes at Ashulia and Kanchpur — the country\’s two main apparel hubs — where most factories making clothing for global retailers such as Wal-Mart and H&M are located.

Major western retailers in January wrote to the prime minister requesting across-the-board wage increases.

Current wages are "below the poverty line" and have "contributed to unrest" among workers, the letter said.

Garments accounted for nearly 80 percent of Bangladesh\’s 15.56 billion dollars of exports last year. The factories employ around 40 percent of the industrial workforce.

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