Bangladesh’s garment industry is responsible for nearly 80 percent of the country’s exports – mainly to Europe and the United States – and is the country’s single greatest source of economic growth.
An estimated 2-3 million Bangladeshis are employed in more than 4,000 factories all over the country, not including the thousands of sub-suppliers.
About 80 percent of the working force are women. Sub-suppliers often employ children under the age of 14, although this violates national law. Workers are often underpaid: many factories pay as little as 1,500-2,000 taka ($19-26) a month, though by law the minimum wage is higher than this. Workers often toil for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Several clothing buyers have asked the Bangladeshi government to raise the minimum wage, but factory owners argue they will not be competitive against Vietnam, China and other big producers if they raise wages and would therefore would have to close their factories.
Riots by textile workers occasionally break out, leading to short-term shutdowns and often to injuries and fatalities among workers. Over the past several months, scores of workers have also been killed when fires broke out in garment factories.