Background

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 a regular occurrence. Until 1946 it was part of the British-Indian empire, when the empire was divided between Pakistan and India. Bangladesh was allocated to Pakistan, 1500 km away. In 1971, Bangladesh gained independence after a bloody struggle with Pakistan. The country has been 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

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 centres are Chittagong and Khulna. The Bangladeshi government aims to keep the production in domestic hands, with foreign investors own less than 15% of the factories. Factories with foreign owners 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 2012, the brand ordered 1,1 billion € of clothes 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 women cannot finish school because of the financial situation of their families, forcing them to drop out of education and seek employment in one of thousands of garment factories. Low wages force Bangladeshi women to work incredibly long hours in order to provide for themselves and their families. Taking a day off, even when sick, is not an option. Many are forced to work over 100 hours of overtime per month.

In November 2013 the government announced a raise in the minimum wage from 3.000 BDT (28,48 € ) to 5.300 BDT (50,32 € ). While this is an increase of 77%, it is only 21% of what groups such as the Asia Floor Wage consider 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 that when these rights are being respected, workers have better access to other human rights such as the right to a living wage and limitations to working hours.

However, it is extremely difficult to start and register a trade union in Bangladesh. Union leaders are routinely and categorically harassed, intimidated, fired or in extreme cases, murdered. Only 120 of the 3000-5000 factories in Bangladesh have a registered trade union, and most of them have only been set up in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse.

Unsafe factories

The garment industry in Bangladesh has become infamous due to its unsafe factories. In recent years, several factories have burned down or collapsed. As a result of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, at least 1131 garment workers lost their lives and thousands more were injured. It is widely considered the largest industrial disaster in the clothing industry.

The day before the collapse, major cracks appeared on the wall of the building and inspection services ordered the closure of the building. The shops and the bank in the building were closed the next day, but garment workers were forced into the building to work as usual.

They were ordered back to work by the factory-owners who threatened that workers would lose a months salary if they failed to comply. Fearing they would lose their jobs wages if they refused to obey factory owners and despite police advice not to enter the building, workers entered Rana Plaza. Wages in Bangladesh are so low that missing out on even a days wages is a huge risk.

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