The heads of two of Bangladesh's leading export groups are urging apparel importers in the EU and North America to agree to higher prices to offset a crisis in the country's garment industry.

Anwar-Ul-Alam Chowdhury Parvez, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), and Fazlul Hoque, president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BKMEA), have told just-style that importers of Bangladeshi apparel should agree to raise prices so that the workers making their clothes have enough to eat.

Despite a bumper summer rice harvest, strikes and clashes with police at some of the country's 4,500 apparel factories continue to disrupt production, as workers protest at the gap between rising food prices and low wages.

With the arrival of the post-harvest monsoon, the BGMEA and BKMEA expect the situation to deteriorate even further.

The government has responded by agreeing to a new round of subsidised rice distribution in the industrial areas of Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna.

However, the Bangladesh Garment Workers' Trade Union Centre is calling for food rationing for the country's garment workers - and wants a joint fund set up by government and garment manufacturers to implement it.

"The current minimum wage of apparel workers is too small to maintain a family as the prices of essentials have gone up in last one year," said Nazma Akter, president of the Sammilito Garment Sramik (United Garment Workers) Federation and a member of the Minimum Wage Implementation Committee.

In last eight months, almost all the garment factories have implemented minimum wages of between US$30 and $50 per month, but escalating prices and double-digit inflation mean up to 80% of a worker's pay is now spent on food.

According to the industry sources, Bangladesh is expected to earn around US$11bn from its apparel during the current financial year.

By Jahir Ahmed.