Western apparel makers have come under critical fire lately for factory safety issues in Bangladesh. However, they now find themselves in the position of asking for help, worried about the gathering violence of factory worker protests.
Fears about security have intensified following a coordinated attack on a car transporting three officials from JHK Trader SRL, a Spanish retailing company. They were part of a three car caravan carrying seven officials in total passing through Dhaka, the nation’s capital, en route to the Wisdom Attires factory in Narayanaganj.
Rattled by the sudden attacks, JHK plans to pull its business from Bangladesh. According to Reaz-Bin Mahmood, vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the climate of fear and insecurity will make it difficult to attract buyers. “We want security for the retailers and brands, in the interests of the garment sector. It will be very difficult to retrieve the work order, as the buyers were scared by the attacks.”
Mahmood continued, “We are worried over the incident at Badda. Such an incident has never happened in Bangladesh before.”
While a specific attack on a retailer in Bangladesh is unprecedented, there has been mounting tumult as a result of a contentious dispute between factory workers and owners over raising the minimum wage. Even after the Bangladesh Ministry of Labor officially signed off on the new minimum wage recommendations from the ad hoc Wage Board, simmering tensions have failed to subside. More than 2,000 garment factory workers took to the streets in Gazipur, violently demanding that recently shuttered factories reopen and that wage increases take immediate effect.
The violence is leading many experts to wonder if, rather than bringing a conclusion to civil unrest, the newly minted salary structure will only stoke the embers of further conflict. While a final compromise was reached both sides expressed some disappointment with the specifics of the deal. In particular, the factory owners only capitulated begrudgingly. Speaking to the AFP, Mahmood said, “We have accepted the wage board decision following the Prime Minister’s request. But it’ll be difficult for many of us to raise the wages, if the Western retailers don’t hike order prices by 10% to 15%.”
JHK sources more than $40 million a year in garments in Bangladesh. Mohammed Hatem, vice president of the Bangladesh Knitwear and Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said, speaking to The Daily Star, “Now all orders have been withdrawn from Bangladesh from the company.”