300 Bangladeshi Garment Factories Shut Down After Violent Protests
Posted on June 19, 2012 by jway
Half a million garment workers in the Ashulia Industrial Zone, outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, who make clothing for Walmart and other global retailers, have taken to the streets protesting low wages. The Bangladeshi garment industry pays lower wages than any other national garment sector in the world.
According to the BBC, union leaders in the area say that pay raises have not kept pace with inflation and “employees, who work 10 to 16 hours a day, six days a week, are now demanding a 50% pay increase.” Hundreds of people have been injured in the violent clash between workers and police, who have fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons into the crowds. The local garment makers’ association announced on Sunday that it would close more than 300 garment factories in the area indefinitely after five days of worker protests, pushing for the ‘punishment’ of workers.
Walmart is one of the largest purchasers of Bangladeshi clothing and has the power to exert meaningful influence in the region given the company’s size. Despite appeals from labor leaders for Walmart to increase their oversight of working conditions, those who dare to speak out on behalf of garment workers continue to experience oppression, threats, torture and worse.
Bangladeshi labor leader Kalpona Akter has faced unjust charges, arrest and torture because of her role in organizing garment workers in the Walmart supply chain. She traveled to Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters in 2011 to present a shareholder proposal to the company asking for increased oversight of the working conditions in Walmart’s supply chain. She presented Walmart CEO Mike Duke with a petition signed by hundreds of thousands of supporters. The petition explicitly asked Walmart to protect her colleague, Aminul Islam, urging Walmart to “tell [their] suppliers that have instigated false charges against Kalpona Akter, Babul Akhter, Aminul Islam, and other labor leaders that those charges must be dropped; that the officers responsible for torturing these individuals must be held accountable; and that labor rights defenders like the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity must be allowed to operate freely.” In spite of her plea, in April Aminul Islam was brutally tortured and murdered.
Recent accounts of work at a Walmart-supplying seafood factory in Louisiana suggest that inhumane working conditions in Walmart’s supply chain are not isolated to low-wage countries. Moreover, both cases indicate that Walmart’s protocol for addressing these issues is broken. C.J.’s Seafood allegedly subjected Mexican guestworkers to forced “24-hour shifts, barricaded them on the plant floor, threatened them with violence and denied workers overtime.” The workers recently went on strike and filed complaints with the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with the help of the National Guestworker Alliance.
However, last week, Walmart told the Daily Beast that it had conducted an internal investigation of the situation at C.J.’s and was “unable to substantiate” the workers’ claims of abusive treatment. The National Guestworker Alliance, the whistleblower in the case, finds Walmart’s claims a bit fishy, since the company has not even approached the group as part of its “internal investigation,” which leaves us wondering — when Walmart says it has socially responsible sourcing practices, how does it really know?
This post was written by Rebecca Cassler.