Background on Bangladesh

Factsheet Bangladesh

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a country in South-Asia. Bangladesh is largely enclosed by India and borders Myanmar (Birma) to the east. The low-lying country is a delta of rivers which makes flooding occurring regularly. Until 1946 it was part of the British-Indian empire. In 1946 this Empire was divided in Pakistan and India, which allocated Bangladesh with Pakistan, 1500 km away. In 1971, Bangladesh gained independence after a bloody struggle with Pakistan. Since that time, the country is marked by a volatile political situation, violent elections, emergency situations and parliamentary boycotts. Bangladesh is still one of the poorest countries in the world.

  • Population ( 2013 ) : 163.6 million residents making it the fourth most populated country in the world
  • Surface: 147.570 km2
  • Capital: Dhaka
  • Garment industry jobs : around 4 million
  • Percentage of clothing in total exports (2012): 76%
  • Export value of garments (2013): € 14,2 billion
  • Percentage of global apparel production (2011): 6,5 %
  • Minimum Wage (2013): 50,32 € (5.300 BDT) per month
  • Living wage (2013): 259,80 € (25.687 BDT) (calculation Asia Floor Wage) per month

Clothing industry

Bangladesh is the largest exporter of clothing in the world after China. The garment industry is the backbone of the development of the country. Bangladesh has the lowest labor-cost in the region which contributes to the competitive position of Bangladesh to attract clothing brands. Hence, the garment industry has witnessed a spectacular growth in the last decade.

Most garment factories are located in and around Dhaka in region’s such as Mirpur, Savar an Gazipur. Outside the capital, main production centers include Chittagong and Khulna. The Bangladeshi government aims to keep the production into domestic hands and foreign investors own less than 15% of the factories. The factories with foreign owner are generally bigger and more capital intensive than factories owned by Bengal owners. The largest exporter is a company controlled by South Korean investors which has 17 factories with more than 60,000 employees in Dhaka and Chittagong.

H&M is the biggest buyer in Bangladesh. In the 2012, the brand has ordered clothes totaling 1,1 billion € from the country.

Labour conditions

Wages and working-hours

Working in the garment industry is for many women in Bangladesh not a choice but a necessity. Many young woman can’t finish school because the financial situation of their families forces them to drop out and seek employment in one of the thousands of garment factories. Because of the low wages the women are forced to make long days in order to make enough money for herself and their family. They can’t take a day off, even if they are sick. Many are forced to work 14-16 hours a week and work easily 100h per month in overtime.

In November 2013 the Bangladesh government announced to raise the minimum wage from 3.000 BDT (28,48 € ) to 5.300 BDT (50,32 € ). While this is increase of 77%, it is only 21% of what groups such as the Asia Floor Wage considers a living wage for Bangladesh.

Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining

Freedom of association and collective bargaining are two fundamental human rights. These two specific rights are seen as ‘enabling rights’. This means when these rights are being respected, workers can build on these to enforce the respect of other human rights such as a livign wage and the limitations of working hours.

It is however extremely difficult to start and register a trade union in Bangladesh. Union leaders are routinely being harassed, intimidated, fired or even works, murdered. Of about the 3000-5000 factories in Bangladesh, only 120 have a registered trade union, and most of them have only been set up in the wake of the RanaPlaza collapse.

Unsafe factories

The garment industry in Bangladesh in infamous because of its unsafe factories. The last years, several factories burned down or collapsed. With the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, at least 1131 garment workers lost their lives and thousands got injured. It counts as the biggest industrial disaster of the clothing industry. The day before the collapse, major cracks appeared into the wall of the building and the inspection services ordered to close the building. The shops a bank in the building where closed the next days, but the garment workers who worked in five factories where forced into the building. Afterwards the building collapsed.

The garment workers were ordered back to work by the factory-owners who threatened that the workers would otherwise loose a months salary. Despite their fear and the advice of the police not to enter the building, workers went to work fearing they would otherwise loose their pay and work. The Bangladesh wage is so low that missing even a day’s pay is a big risk.

In response to this terrible disaster almost 160 brands signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a groundbreaking initiatives for safe factories.