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Germany, H&M Push for Higher Wages in Bangladesh

During a recent four-day visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh, two prominent members of German parliament urged international garment buyers to pay more in order to aid the improvement of factory working conditions there.

In a jointly issued statement, Renate Kunast and Uwe Kekeritz argued that recent efforts to bring Bangladesh’s building standards and labor conditions up to acceptable standards require a more equitable distribution of profits: “The profits should not only be shared by international fashion labels and factory owners–workers should also benefit.”

According to the two legislators, the centerpiece of any legitimate effort to transform Bangladesh’s squalid working conditions is a significant increase in factory laborers’ wages: “What is needed are higher wages, better fire and building standards and active trade unions–and we expect the government of Bangladesh to improve the conditions of the industry. It is overdue that things change here in Bangladesh.”

Separately, Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of retail giant H&M, echoed the lawmakers’ sentiments, calling for a substantial boost in workers’ wages. “It is in the interest of of the Bangladeshi textile industry, as well as in our interest, that the textile industry continues to develop into an advanced and mature textile industry.”

Bangladesh’s notoriously low wages has consistently been a lightning rod of controversy. The average laborer earns a meager  thirty-six dollars a month despite working six-day weeks, often sixteen-hours a day, in perilous conditions. Earlier this year, more than 300 factories closed down as the result of tens of thousands of workers protesting over wages.

After similar protests devolved into violence in 2010, the Bangladesh government capitulated, raising the minimum wage by nearly 80 percent. Back then, H&M spearheaded efforts to cajole Bangladesh into not only increasing wages but also generally improving labor conditions. More recently, however, Bangladesh has proven resistant to additional wage hikes since low costs have have been a principal component of a business strategy that has made them the second largest apparel exporter in the world, behind only India.