Garment workers starve while fashion brands flourish, Mr Kearney

04 Aug '08
2 min read

"Garment workers in Bangladesh are going hungry while their local bosses flaunt their wealth and the big fashion brands sourcing in the country flourish”, said Neil Kearney, General Secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation, speaking in Dhaka.

Describing the situation in Bangladesh as 'obscene' Mr. Kearney said that while local factory owners are living in palatial-style mansions and being driven around in the biggest and most stylish vehicles, the workers who produce the source of this wealth – millions of garments exported daily from Bangladesh – are living in poverty and often denied the legal minimum wage of US$ 25 a month.

“This is a scandal of the utmost proportion”, said Mr. Kearney. “Workers are skipping their own meals so that their children can eat.

One woman told me this week that her only food all day is a dish of rice and watery vegetables served up in the factory canteen at lunchtime.

“Inflation in Bangladesh has rocketed with some items of food doubling in the last six months. Recent reports indicate that basic wage workers in Bangladesh are now spending 70% of their wages on rice alone. Even wealthy middle managers told me they are finding it difficult to survive.

“The US$ 25 legal minimum wage was set two years ago and twelve years after the previous increase. In 2006 it constituted only half of what a family needed to exist. It is under a third of the living wage figure for Bangladesh.

“A total ban on trade union activity for the past eighteen months has rendered Bangladesh's workers voiceless and is driving the country further into poverty.

“It is a sobering thought that it would take a Bangladeshi worker, earning the minimum wage, 85,000 years to earn the US$ 15 million annual wage packet of the CEO of one leading global sporting goods brand sourcing heavily in Bangladesh.

“This obscenity has to stop. Workers must get back their right to form and join trade unions of their choice and to bargain on wages and working conditions with their employers.

“A monthly wage of at least US$ 70 (Taka 4,500) is urgently needed to lift Bangladesh's 2.5 million garment workers out of absolute poverty.

And even an increase of that size wouldn't constitute a living wage. The global and national garment industry can well afford such an earnings hike!” concluded Mr. Kearney.

International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation

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