Garments Sector- Ronaldinho of Bangladesh’s Economy
World Cup football is right at the corner. This is one of the few occasions which wage earners including garments workers of Bangladesh enjoy thoroughly. This year though many of them will have no work, no earnings so no mantel and financial strength to take pleasure out of the Germany world Cup 2006. Germany however is one of the big buyers of our garments manufactures. Ironically the recent unrest in garments sector has a trickle down effect right at the center of fashion market of the World Cup as some of the affected factories were preparing cloths with the World Cup’s logo.
There is no better way to hurt an economy than ruining its major contributor. Just as other countries would like to impede Ronaldinho by any means to halt Brazil’s quest. ‘Ready-made garments’ is the No. 1 industry of Bangladesh with 75% of the total exports. More than 4,000 factories are activating in this sector which employ more than 1.2 million workers, 90% of which are women. In two days of violent unrest in Dhaka and in its suburbs, over 250 factories of this effective sector have been destroyed and burnt. A perfect plot to ruin the economy. Job well done.
Garment factory workers are the most productive and yet most exploited, the least rewarded but appreciated sections of the poor working class. It is surely the anger of workers ‘who do not have any weekend, do not have regular salary let alone overtime’ which played its part in the recent unrest. Owners however think otherwise. They are blaming a neighboring country (I wonder who this might be! Is it Myanmar? ) for manipulating the sentiment of the workers. Dear owners, leading a lavish life with foreign tours and best education for your children do not mean workers are passing ‘happy happy’ days. It is the reverse actually. The hard labor of 1.2 million workers enables you to lead the life you do. Ya ya, you are the entrepreneurs with the capital and links and the brain and the communication skill which makes the difference. Try to live a month with the wage you provide to your workers. I won’t advise you to put your feet in there shoes cause they do not have any! Oh! Sorry, I missed your age. If you are above 45, you won’t necessarily get a job in the garments sector. Do imagine your daughter in the place of the worker. She is locked inside the factory from dawn-to-dusk because her employer does not trust her and when fire catches up in factories, dozens of people like her are burnt alive.
Atrocious fact is, day by day, workers are sacrificing their flesh and blood; owners are accumulating the fat from it. Nice correlation- brainy but less haired economists would say. Paying around sixty US cents to a factory worker per day simply means this huge workforce is living below the poverty line! Hello civil society and NGOs, did this simple math never occurred in your precious mind? Human dignity, freedom and leisure are just three words which the workers never understood. These are sole proprietorships of the civil society and NGOs which brings fame and funds from the international donors.
So called “Bhab Murti” of this sector was ruined years ago. Much to the displeasure of the owners, General Secretary of the Brussels-based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation Neil Kearney said "We have repeatedly warned of the growing frustration at the payment of starvation wages, the excessive hours of work, the cheating on piece work and the falsifying of overtime rates, the abusive treatment and the appalling health and safety conditions.” But the employers association, BGMEA, has brushed aside the notion that the violence is the result of low wages and poor conditions, claiming that workers were 'well paid and enjoyed good conditions'.
Neil Kearney pointed out that the violence at the FS Sweater Factory in Dhaka, which marked the start of the riots that spread through the industry, stemmed from corrupt criminal action against workers involved in a dispute over piece rates, and that police brutality and incompetence further enflamed the situation.
According to the Global Union Federation, the violent events that occurred last week in Bangladesh’s garment industry certainly served to highlight the corruption, incompetence and brutality of the country’s police force. In a letter to Prime Minster Khaleda Zia, this federation said that the country’s total lack of respect for civil liberties is preventing workers from organizing and bargaining to improve their wages and working conditions.
Who is the big neighbor, By the way? Owners started blaming out side influence from the very beginning. Why not JMB?! Maybe because none of the frontline workers had beard.
Without the argument of whether they are right of wrong, "neighboring country" was an ‘inquiring’ choice of words from the owners. Did the statement refer to Myanmar, Bangladesh's neighbor to the east? Not to forget, Myanmar is ruled by the awful military Generals and depresses democracy in every possible way.
Knock Knock. Wake up. Spit it out dudes. If you think its India who is behind this civil unrest, you should have the gates to say so. It seems that the owners are only good at exploiting workers inside the factory but do not have the guts to name India in front of the media even when it is accused of the worst crimes. Shame.
Obviously India played a role in it.
It must have. That is the characteristics it has.
One cannot rule out 'foreign conspiracies' against a 'growing market'; particularly when history records hundreds of wars to capture another's market. India is good at doing a lot of ugly things including harming its small neighbors. Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh face this Big brother’s continuous interference. Maoist guerrillas of Nepal are funded by India causing civil war and LTTE group of Sri Lanka are getting Indian assistance from the very early stage. LTTE’s top leaders were even trained in India. The target of India this time is Bangladeshi economy in general; export industry in particular. How about the fact that ‘not a single Indian owned garment factory in Savar EPZ came under attack’! PC Sharkar’s magic? Who knows!
After the end of the Multi-Fiber Agreement in 2005 and the changeover to the new WTO regime, it was projected that Bangladesh's flourishing textile industry would fold over. Wise but wrong ‘prediction masters’ said, Bangladesh was dependent on MFA quotas and that India would dominate the new landscape. This did not happen; instead, the industry continued to flow. The garments factories of Bangladesh are enjoying a boom following the end of global textile quotas. In the first nine months of the current fiscal year, textile exports rose by 19.45 per cent to 5.65 billion dollars. The sector is irreplaceable. It was 80’s Maradona and recent Ronaldinho of Bangladeshi economy. An ugly fealty country like India does not want this for boom of its own garments sector perhaps. Historically India’s foreign policy on Bangladesh is largely based on highlighting Bangladesh’s image as a sorry story to the rest of the world. The sage continues.
Beloved Government! The government, which grants various kinds of 'incentives' to the private sector employers, did not play any pro-active role to make the employers respond to the legitimate demand of adjusting the minimum wage. The Government is also tuning with the owners and thinks it was the outsiders who did this. They being the insiders could not do anything about it. They can not ensure life security of the people, cannot supply adequate water & power, and now they have proven to be spectators in the unrest and riot with zero level of ‘protectionist credibility’. We love you.
Truth is, workers’ anger mingled with Indian conspiracy and pulled our Ronaldinho flat into the ground. It would take an extra effort to stand up and fight again. Four parties involved in the garments industry; the government, factory owners, western buyers and workers must have a combine essence to solve the dispute. Living one of the parties aside will only worsen the problem.
While the ‘player Ronaldinho’ will do his best to retain the World cup in 2006 for Brazil, our garments sector has to fight with a lot of odds to retain its position which will perhaps take years to accomplish. I hope both succeed.