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The textile workers' protests in Bangladesh have led to a fatal casualty. The labourers have been protesting for days to demand higher minimum wages, but they also fear their working conditions may get worse now that the government wants to eliminate foreign monitoring, which has been going on since the Rana Plaza disaster.

Increased minimum wage is not enough

Thousands of textile workers from many clothing factories have been protesting on the streets since Sunday to demand higher minimum wages. On Wednesday, this led to a confrontation with the police, when the protesters were trying to block a road to the national airport of Dhaka. Someone got shot to death and dozens of others got hurt, according to FashionUnited. 

The protests come as a result of the workers' dissatisfaction with their wages and working conditions. In September, the government announced an increase to the minimum wage, from 5,300 taka (54 euros) to 8,000 (82 euros) per month, from December onward. It was the first pay rise since 2013. Workers maintain that the rise is insufficient to compensate for the price increases of the past few years. Worst of all, factories still haven't actually applied the salary increases.

Bangladesh gets rid of monitors

The textile workers are also worried about the Bangladesh Accord, which was formed in the wake of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013, where over 1,100 workers lost their lives. Five years later, that international accord is now supposed to make way for the Transition Accord 2018, which intends to map the road to the future along with the 200 fashion brands and interest groups that signed it. 

The government of Bangladesh wants to get rid of the accord: the Bengal High Court decided that the international organisation that examines factories for safety had to leave the country in November 2018. The government maintains that foreign monitoring is no longer needed and the domestic organisation known as the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC) can take over all of these functions. The Accord appealed against that decision and now a new verdict is expected by January 21st.

Elimination of 500 unsafe factories unacceptable

The government argues that no serious accidents have occurred since 2013, but the true catalyst behind the ban is the fact that 500 factories were disapproved by the Accord because they still do not meet the safety demands. As a result, fashion brands can no longer place any orders at these factories. Many jobs would be lost and Bangladesh would lose a lot of income, which Minister of Trade Tofail Ahmed calls "unacceptable".

The textile workers remain anxious: although many jobs are jeopardised when 500 factories are eliminated, there is a large chance that working conditions will rapidly deteriorate when inspections will only be done by the Remediation Coordination Cell (RCC). "Everything points to a lack of readiness", concludes a Clean Clothes Campaign report: "National inspection fails to act transparently and employs only a third of the needed amount of inspectors to monitor twice as many factories as currently covered by the Accord."

Even when the 500 contested factories are allowed to remain open and the Accord is made void, the chance is still small that large fashion brands will continue to order there. After all, the brands who signed the accord in 2013 have an obligation to hold to it until 2021.

Back to basics for the textile workers?

The Clean Clothes Campaign emphasises they intend to "work together with the government" and to "hand over the work of inspection and remedying issues to a demonstrably capable national authority", but only "when and only when the government is capable of it". That is why the country's biggest trade partners have to stress the importance of an "orderly transition", according to the organisation. In this spirit, over a hundred factories have already handed over controlling power to the Bengal RCC.

Bangladesh has an economy that strongly depends on the export of clothes. The industry made 25 billion euros for the country in 2017. Even after the 2013 disaster, it remains the world's second largest apparel exporter, according to the World Trade Organisation. This is mostly due to the low labour and production costs. Precisely for this reason, the government and factory owners are less than thrilled about any measures that increase costs for the industry.

Published On : 11-01-2019

Source : Drapers Online

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