Protests in the textile industry are not new to Bangladesh, making up part of the country’s young economic history. For three days in a row, workers have protested around the textile factories in Ashulia, outside of the capital city of Dhaka. The riots have turned violent, as these often do in the country which has a history of worker rebellion. The protest is over pay and conditions- common issues faced by many, if not the majority of low skilled workers around the country.
Textile industry in Dhaka employs over two million workers, making up a large part of their export industry, which has been hard hit with the global economic decline. A government survey released on Sunday, June 29 reported that 122 out of 825 factories had not paid workers on time in the last five months. This is with the understanding that an average textile worker earns less than $25 per month- one of the lowest income standards in the world. While paying an unsustainable income, the textile industry still makes up about seventeen percent of the country’s GDP. However, given that the demand for textiles has decreased globally, raising incomes for workers is not possible from the business perspective.
Bangladesh also faces an ever increasing population growth, with the supply of workers far outweighing the demand for labor. While competition for work is intense, the work itself is known to be in harsh conditions, and violation of contracts and basic rights commonly tolerated. The developing country’s poor economic growth associated with the unstable political climate has caused workers to tolerate these terms out of desperation. The tensions have accumulated and in turn are expressed through strikes and riots which frequent the news channels every year.
While international groups and NGOs continue to place pressure on the government and local labor organizations, conditions have changed very little in the country. Responsibility for the conditions are tossed around, the blame going from the often corrupted government, international competition, multi-national brands continuing to be buyers while turning a blind eye , to basic social norms. These riots, like the kind currently taking place have resulted in injuries faced by people in bulks rather than just a few, and its effects turning dangerous overnight. Today, police had to use bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators as at least one factory has been burned and others forced to close. Over one hundred people including several police members have been injured thus far.
Social responsibility can be place don anyone, from the parents that allow their teenager to go to work rather than school, to the U.S. based companies that chose to ignore such conditions in turn for cheap labor abroad. The cycle continues even in today’s world where human rights are becoming increasingly debated and recognized. Meanwhile, the average person in Bangladesh will flip through their newspaper and briefly read about the violence taking place in their neighborhood with slight interest as they have all seen it before.