Meanwhile, Back At The Sweatshop …

The minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25 per hour.  For the fulltime worker, working 40 hours a week, that equates to $58 per day, $290 per week, $15,080 per year.  The federal poverty level for an individual is $11,770, and for a family of four is $24,250.  There has long been a call to raise the minimum wage in the U.S., one which I fully support.  However, I cite these figures today for comparative purposes.

In Bangladesh, 3.5 million workers in 4,825 garment factories produce goods for export to the global market, principally Europe and North America. Nearly every major clothing store in the U.S. sells clothing made in Bangladesh, including Macy’s, The Gap, Wal-Mart, L.L. Bean, Sears, J.C. Penney and many more too numerous to list.  While you may pay $40 for that pair of Lee jeans you are wearing, or $75 for the Anne Klein sweater you gave your sister for Christmas, the people who made those items are earning far less than subsistence wages.

In Dhaka, garment workers earn 5,300 taka, about $66.39 US dollars, per month, or about $797 USD per year.  Bangladesh is the second largest clothing exporter after China, yet has the lowest minimum wage in the world. The minimum wage rate was increased in 2013 from $38 USD per month.

bangla-2Last month, workers in Ashulia, a hub for garment factories on the outskirts of Dhaka, tens of thousands of workers joined a large protest for a raise in pay.  What they got, however was not what they had hoped for.  The protest caused some 50 factories to shut down for a week, many were arrested, and more than 1,500, including some who were not part of the protest, lost their jobs and were blacklisted.  Some of those who lost their jobs now fear harassment by police.

The minimum age for employment in Bangladesh is 14, however many smaller factories employ children much younger and pay them only a portion of what adults are paid.

There is also a safety factor to consider.  In 2013, known as the Rana Plaza disaster, a run-down eight-story factory complex making clothes for Primark, Benetton, Walmart and other Western brands collapsed, killing 1,138 and injuring more than 2,500 workers.  The death toll was eight times that of the historic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911.  One factory worker described working conditions:

“Since the disaster, employees have to work harder. They have higher production targets. If they cannot fulfil them they have to work extra hours but with no overtime. It is very tough; they cannot go for toilet breaks or to drink water. They become sick. They are getting the minimum wage as per legal requirements but they are not getting a living wage.”

When workers took to the streets to protest back wages owed to them, as well as working conditions after the Rana Plaza disaster, police opened fire, used tear gas and batons, injuring at least 50.  Western clothing companies, who benefit greatly from cheap labor in Bangladesh factories, were asked to contribute to a compensation fund for the victims, but a year after the disaster, only 5 of the 27 brands had offered to help.

We all complain from time to time about our jobs, working conditions, bosses, salaries, etc. – it is human nature, I think.  My daughter and a number of my friends have truly legitimate complaints, and I empathize.  However, I think that when we put things in perspective, most U.S. workers have it pretty good.  Certainly there is room for improvement, but there always will be.  It is all relative – the minimum wage in the U.S. ranks 11th worldwide (see chart below), however Bangladesh is at the bottom of that ranking.

bangla-minwagechrt

As I was writing this piece, I needed to go upstairs for a sweatshirt, as it is cold downstairs today, so I decided, just out of curiosity, to check the labels on a few articles of my clothing.  I found a pair of jeans was made in Egypt, while a t-shirt was manufactured in India.  But the one that confounded me was the sweatshirt of which the label says, “manufactured in EU, assembled in Mexico”.  It’s a sweatshirt, for Pete’s sake, not a 5,000-piece puzzle.  Two arms, a front and a back … and they needed to send it from the EU to Mexico to sew those four parts together?  I’m still scratching my head over that one!

It should also be noted, though it is not my reason for writing this post, but merely an aside, that some of the shirts in Donald Trump’s line of clothing are made in Bangladesh, while the rest are manufactured in China, Honduras and Vietnam. Make of that what you will.

bangla-gap

$90 Gap jeans

I do not know what the solution to the working conditions and low wages in Bangladesh are … I wish I did.  To boycott products manufactured in that country would only exacerbate the problem, as factories would close, workers would lose their jobs altogether, and poverty would increase.  So, while I have no solutions, I think it is necessary for us to be aware.  Aware and thankful, for our lives could be so much worse, and I think we often forget that.

9 thoughts on “Meanwhile, Back At The Sweatshop …

  1. At my Catholic church this weekend, the priest cited some of Pope Francis’s homily for the Epiphany when the three wise men supposedly visited Jesus at the manger. Francis is a clever man. He talked about how the three wise men represent those of us that question injustice and things that don’t seem right. He went on to contrast this with King Herod who always had his own way and didn’t listen to his advisers. The Pope went on to encourage us to live our lives like the wise men and not like the king because nothing good will come of it. Hmmm…I wonder who he was talking about.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Jill, You are so right. Boycotting these goods would only exacerbate the situation as these peoples need their jobs. Yet this is a heart breaking scenario begging fo a solution.

    It would be great to be able to provide grant monies to individuals, so that they can have their own sewing machines to create their own businesses.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed … that would be a wonderful thing, but there are so many humanitarian needs around the world, and so few people of means who are willing to contribute to solutions. Can you imagine DT or any of his rich minions being willing to help these people? No, me either. 😥 And unfortunately, those of us who would love to do something … well, we don’t have the means. Sigh. Hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The minimum wage in this country is truly embarrassing. But data about minimum wages around the world only make sense when compared with the cost of living. I daresay the data would still be unsettling (and I realize that we are talking a bout sweat shops here), but the entire picture would also make a bit more sense.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Agreed. You are quite right in that cost-of-living is the second part of the equation, and I did consider that, but quickly realized that it was far beyond the scope of this single post and didn’t really pertain to the topic of the Bangladesh situation at the moment. But you are right … in order to properly compare wages, we must also consider cost-of-living. Maybe I’ll tackle that someday … if da man ever leaves my radar long enough for me to do anything else! 🙂

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  4. Jill, it is quite the dilemma. In the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” a CFO is quoted as saying employers would get away with having no employees if they could. There are easily programmable robots that can be purchased rather inexpensively that can replace several workers. Technology gains are the larger pressure points on workers which will continue.

    Employers tend to chase cheap labor. The textile industry chased it from England to New England to the South to China to Vietnam and Bangladesh. It is as close to slave labor as one can get. In the US, we should applaud the 60% + of states that have minimum wages higher than the US minimum. And, some cities have found a need to have even more. It was announced yesterday that Wells Fargo is raising its minimum to $13 per hour and Bank of America raised theirs a few months ago, following suit of Walmart.

    Yet, when you listen to conservative media, as I did the other day, the theme of the new story is how wrong increasing the minimum wage is. We have comparative data that can analyze the impact on a city, state or business. If not done abruptly, the studies support a more positive impact than negative, yet some negative outcomes exist which fuel the conservative view. The CBO did a study a couple of years ago saying an increase to $9 per hour would be hugely positive in the multi-millions in increases, but affect about 500,000 workers negatively through job loss. If it was higher, the upper end impact would be larger, but so would the lower end.

    As for other countries hiring slave labor, we can only vote with our feet and hold retailers and sellers accountable by not buying. Unfortunately, the significant majority of buyers only want a good value rather make a statement.

    Thanks for raising this important issue. Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    • As re: the CFO who said employers would have no employees if they could get by with it … see my post tomorrow (Monday) afternoon, which deals in part with Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labour … he says almost that exact same thing! While I have read about some potential downsides, which seem reasonable, to a very large increase in minimum wage, I have also read that an increase to $10-$11 should be quite sustainable. I cannot imagine feeding even my small family (3) on $7.25 an hour! And yes, we are definitely a materialistic society, where not much matters other than getting what we want for the least amount of money. What is your take on Trump’s many products that are manufactured overseas, especially in countries like Bangladesh? It is in direct contradiction with his push to bring jobs back, but … WHY is nobody speaking out on this??? Do you think he will need to make changes in his business practices in this area?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jill, my take is it is a microcosm of his nature. Laws and restrictions do not apply to me, just other people. Trump’s modus operandi his entire career is to take advantage of others and he uses the law to bully people, sometimes after screwing them over. Yet, when he is sued for violations it is a personal affront.

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