Bangladesh Garment Hub to Reopen After Unrest

Bangladesh Garment Hub to Reopen After Unrest

"We've decided to reopen the factories from Friday," Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said.

DHAKA - Bangladesh garment manufacturers said Thursday they would reopen hundreds of factories in a hub outside Dhaka, days after they were shuttered due to unrest over the country's worst industrial tragedy.

The manufacturers Monday announced the shutdown of the factories in the Ashulia industrial area after two weeks of protests over the death of 1,127 garment workers in the collapse of a nine story complex.

"We've decided to reopen the factories from Friday," Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said after meeting government and labor representatives.

The association, which represents the country's 4,500 garment factories, took the decision after the government assured it of the "highest security" for the plants, Azim said.

"We met the home and labor ministers and representatives from the workers today. They assured the highest security for our factories," he said.

There has been virtually no work at Ashulia, home to several hundred garment factories, since the deadly collapse of the garment factory complex near the hub that highlighted appalling safety conditions in the sector.

Huge Losses From Unrest

"We incurred losses of at least $150 million due to labor unrest in the past two weeks," Azim said. Police said tens of thousands of workers joined the protests and dozens of factories and vehicles were vandalized.

Most of Bangladesh's top garment factories, which make clothing for a string of major Western retailers including Walmart, H&M, Tesco, Inditex and Carrefour, are based at Ashulia.

Angry workers have also demanded a big rise in their minimum monthly wage, which was fixed at $38 in November 2010, prompting Pope Francis to compare the pay to that of "slave labor."

The government last week set up a panel to raise the salaries of the three million garment workers and has approved changes in labor laws, making it easier for them to form unions.

The announcement of the factory reopening plans came as Swiss-based labor umbrella groups Industrial Global Union and UNI Global Union praised top retailers for joining their drive to make Bangladesh's garment factories safer.

"This accord is a turning point. We are putting in place rules that mark the end of the race to the bottom in the global supply chain," Philip Jennings, UNI Global Union's general secretary, said in a statement.

The full list of deal signatories released Thursday included: H&M, Inditex, C&A, PVH, Tchibo, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Primark, El Corte Ingles, and Mango.

The agreement binds retailers to hold independent building and fire safety inspections and pay for repairs.

Walmart and Gap have not joined the agreement. Walmart, however, has undertaken to inspect all 279 of its Bangladeshi suppliers and publish the results, while Gap has underlined it launched its own drive last October.

Bangladesh is the world's second-biggest apparel maker and the $20 billion industry accounts for up to 80% of annual exports.

Shafiq Alam, AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013

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