Open letter to brands producing in Bangladesh

To H&M, Bestseller, Next, Primark, C&A, Uniqlo, M&S, Puma, VF Corp., PVH, Walmart and Zara, and all international brands producing clothes in Bangladesh:

On 7 November, the new minimum wage for garment workers in Bangladesh, one of your main production locations, was proposed at 12,500 Bangladesh Taka (113 USD) per month. This amount is far below the trade union demand of 23,000 Taka (208 USD), the amount that studies confirm is the bare minimum needed to live above the poverty line in Bangladesh. In concrete terms, this means that workers in the sector will continue to struggle to survive, often forced to rely on gruelling overtime shifts (on top of their normal 48-hour work week), often forced to take second jobs, high-interest, loans and to skip meals to make ends meet. Poverty wages are also the main reason why garment workers are forced to pull their children out of school and into work. 

The new minimum wage is the result of a highly flawed and problematic wage-setting process in which workers’ voices have been disregarded. Due to the exclusion of independent trade unions from the Minimum Wage Board and systematic union busting that has weakened the ability of workers to bargain collectively over wages, in recent weeks workers have taken to the streets in desperation to make their demands heard. Workers exercising their right to freely assemble and protest have been met with rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and shotgun pellets. Meanwhile, trade union leaders are subject to even stricter surveillance, threats and arrest.

This vicious cycle will not end until brands finally speak out and condemn violence used against workers, condemn repression against trade unions and adjust their purchasing prices to enable payment of at least 23,000 Taka (208 USD) per month. To date, at least four workers have lost their lives in the protests and dozens more have been seriously wounded. We are receiving reports of extreme measures devised by factory owners supplying international brands to suppress striking workers, such as threatening to withhold wages, false arrests, blacklisting and termination. It is therefore important that brand responses are not just limited to words of condemnation, but also extend to concrete actions that ensure that the workers’ right to protest is respected. Brands like you commit on paper to protect Freedom of Association but now that workers are having this basic rights threatened, why have you failed to intervene?

It is important to underline that many of you have made explicit living wage commitments in your codes of conduct. The hypocrisy of these commitments could not be more striking when the same brands who make them are unwilling to support the modest wage of 23,000 Taka, let alone a living wage (estimated at 53,000 Taka by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance). We are aware that due to several factors, including high inflation in Bangladesh, brands have reduced labour costs by 38% since 2019, contributing less and less towards the workers’ wages. Yet the proposed wage increase, the first in five years is just 14%. Living wage commitments are empty promises as long as brands continue to squeeze supplier factories on price and disregard the effect of aggressive purchasing practices on garment workers’ lives.

We hereby ask: is your intention to use your leverage to ensure the final wage is increased to at least 23,000 Taka or is your intention to continue buying from factories where your workers are condemned to a starvation wage that will leave them unable to survive? Will you take meaningful steps to live up to your own living wage commitments, or will they remain empty promises?

We are calling on you to: 

  • Publicly reject the wage offer made by the Minimum Wage Board and communicate your support for 23,000 Taka, to the Chairman of the Board, by 26 November;
  • Publicly communicate your firm commitment to increase your prices proportionately to cover the increase in wage costs and maintain production levels;
  • Publicly condemn the violence and retaliation against workers and trade union repression, and ensure  your suppliers respect  freedom of association by refraining from bringing unfounded cases against workers and paying full wages for illegal lockout periods.
  • Call on your suppliers to promptly withdraw any false criminal cases filed against workers and union leaders. Call on Bangladeshi authorities to cease further arrests of workers and union leaders related to the wage protests and to immediately release innocent, detained workers and unionists.

You have the responsibility and ability to ensure a just wage for workers in Bangladesh. Will you use that power or will you continue to profit from the workers' suffering?