According to the report, Bangladesh experienced relatively high economic growth over the past two decades, mainly due to garment exports. The country accounted for 4.8 per cent of global apparel exports in 2011, compared with only 0.6 per cent in 1990.
But unregulated industry growth has contributed to poor working conditions in that sector, which have acted as an obstacle to sustainable development and, moreover, resulted in some of the worst industrial disasters on record.
For example, Bangladeshi garment sector workers earn some of the lowest wages in the region. As of August 2013, the monthly minimum wage for entry-level workers in the garment sector was US$39 per month – about half of the lowest rate in other major garment-exporting countries, such as Cambodia (US$80), India (US$71), Pakistan (US$79), Sri Lanka (US$73) and Viet Nam (US$78).
While some other countries revise their minimum wages on regular basis, Bangladesh has adjusted the RMG minimum wage only three times since it was first set in 1985 – with the last revision dating back to 2010. A wage board constituted this year is expected to make recommendations for a minimum wage increase shortly.
Recent accidents have brought the issue of occupational health and safety risks in the Bangladeshi garment sector to world attention, including a factory fire in November 2012 that killed 117 workers and the collapse of a building housing several RMG manufacturers in April 2013 that killed 1,129 workers – the latter being one of the worst industrial disasters on record.
Although the government has taken some concrete action in the past six months to address health and safety issues, poor conditions remain a challenge in many factories across the country, especially those in the RMG sector.
According to national estimates, poverty has declined but as of 2010, 76 per cent of the population lived on less than US$2 per day – the highest share in the region.
Furthermore, Bangladesh’s social protection coverage is among the lowest in the region. In 2010, less than ten per cent of all urban poor had access to social assistance.
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