As thousands of workers in Bangladesh staged violent protests, demanding a nearly tripled wage, hundreds of garment factories in the country have been forced to close down. These factories, numbering around 3,500, make up approximately 85 percent of Bangladesh’s annual exports, supplying major Western brands.
Unfortunately, conditions for the sector’s four million workers, mostly women, are dire, with their monthly wages starting at 8,300 taka (US$75). Since the protests began over the weekend, police reported that workers have ransacked numerous factories in Gazipur and other industrial areas on the outskirts of the capital city, Dhaka.
The ongoing protests have resulted in the closure of over 250 garment factories. Out of these, approximately 50 factories have been subjected to vandalism, with four or five of them being set on fire, as reported by the Gazipur police chief. He further explained that when one factory is attacked, neighboring factories become reluctant to remain open.
In Ashulia, a deputy police chief stated that at least 50 large-scale factories, employing over 15,000 workers, have been forced to shut down in the industrial town. Tragically, two workers have lost their lives, and many others have been injured since the protests began, according to police records. In response to the demands, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), representing factory owners, has offered a 25 percent increase in wages.
The pledge falls significantly short of the monthly wage of 23,000 taka ($209) that the protest campaign has been advocating for. Police officials have reported that several thousand workers blocked roads in Dhaka to emphasize their demands. In Gazipur, officers took action by using tear gas and sound grenades against approximately 1,000 workers who were blocking a road and participating in protests, as confirmed by a senior police officer.
He further stated that the workers were dispersed peacefully and left the area. In Dhaka’s western district of Mirpur, protests continued for a third day, with riot police firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and sound grenades at around 5,000 workers who were blockading a road.
To “prevent violence” in the most affected regions, paramilitary troops from the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) have been deployed, as stated by BGB Lieutenant Colonel. The Dhaka Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner has expressed suspicion that the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is instigating the protests.
These protests have occurred simultaneously with separate demonstrations by opposition parties, who are demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister before the upcoming January elections. Garment workers have voiced their concerns, stating that the significant rise in living expenses has made it difficult for them to support their families.