Bangladesh’s government deployed paramilitary troops in the industrial belt of Gazipur to deter further protests as garment factories reopened after five days of violent demonstrations.
“The situation is now relatively calm,” Mostafijur Rahman, additional superintendent of police for Gazipur district, said in a phone interview. Television footage showed the troops patrolling streets where workers attacked factories and blocked traffic earlier this week to demand wage increases.
The government is acting after factory owners met Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir yesterday to urge tighter security. Thousands of garment workers clashed with police this week in the industrial belt on the outskirts of Dhaka, forcing about 400 factories that supply companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to close.
“Unrest in the garment sector will be firmly dealt with,” the minister told reporters, after the meeting.
The labor unrest came five months after the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza factory complex killed more than 1,000 people in the worst industrial accident in the South Asian country’s history. Low wages and production costs have helped spawn the country’s $19 billion manufacturing industry that supplies global retailers with cheap clothes.
The protestors, some of whom pelted factories with bricks and blocked a highway, demanded a minimum monthly salary of 8,114 taka ($104), up from 3,000 taka now. Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Inditex SA, Gap Inc. and Hennes & Mauritz AB (HMB) source goods from Gazipur, according to Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh.
This is not a situation unique to Bangladesh. Similar unrest is occurring all over Asia in nations where exploitation of labor is common and more or less perfectly legal.
Halfway around the world, the American desire for cheap everything is taking a high, high human toll and sadly, most of the representatives in Washington are doing everything they can to keep the fires burning.
This is the dark side of globalization and one these countries would prefer you didn’t even know about. Like addicts to a drug, they are now hooked on billions upon billions of dollars of American manufacturing business.
Don’t expect these workers to get what they want anytime soon, but they are not alone. More demonstrations like this will take place, more workers will rise up and maybe one day they will get so loud that they can be ignored no longer.
But that day is not today, so for the time being Americans will remain oblivious as they enjoy their $3 shirts and $5 handbags.