Campaigners have expressed outrage at the Bangladesh Government’s decision to raise the minimum worker wage by 51% to BDT8000 (US$95) per month – half what the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) had been seeking – and are now calling on brands to step in.

The wage increase was announced on 14 September by State Minister for Labour and Employment, Mujibul Haque Chunnu, following months of negotiations.

The last increase was made in 2013 following international pressure after a string of fatal factory accidents. This was an increase from BDT3,000 (US$35) adopted in 2010.

In January this year, the government of Bangladesh set up a minimum wage board consisting of representatives from employers, national trade union federations, and government officials. In July, employers’ representatives proposed to increase the monthly minimum wages to BDT6,360 (US$75), while a trade union representative tabled an increase up to BDT12,020. The IndustriAll Bangladesh Council (IBC) has been seeking BDT16,000.

“The declaration of minimum wage of BDT8,000 totally failed to fulfill the expectations of the workers and workers’ organisations,” asserts Shapon Salauddin, the secretary general of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC).

Clean Clothes Campaign says it supports the IBC’s s call for a review of the announced amount, in light of the well-justified demand of workers’ unions for the new minimum wage to be set at BDT16,000, and due to serious concerns about the wage board composition and process.

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The announced minimum wage of BDT8,000, it adds, is problematic in a number of ways, especially since it is below any credible living wage estimate given inflation in the country over the past five years, and given the increases that should have already been implemented based on legal requirements.

In addition, the minimum wage of garment workers in Bangladesh is composed of a basic wage and several allowances. The new minimum wage increases the share of allowances at the expense of the basic wage, and that has additional negative repercussions related to overtime and severance pay.

“The BDT8,000 as a new minimum wage is outrageous. As we have done all along, we are fully backing the demand for BDT16,000 that the IBC had clearly communicated to the Minimum Wage Board, and support them in requesting an immediate review given that the wage board process was deeply compromised,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of Clean Clothes Campaign. 

The organisation says it expects garment brands to not “stand by silently as millions of workers producing the clothes sourced from Bangladesh are scared to express their discontent while facing a starvation wage”.

“Brands must publicly and concretely demonstrate that they are willing to live up to their own ethical standards and ensure respect for human rights in their supply chains, including the right to a living wage,” it adds.

Swedish clothing chain H&M’s new Fair Living Wage Strategy is now being used by 1m workers globally. The firm says the policy, which stipulates a fair living wage should be paid by all its suppliers, empowers garment workers by ensuring that democratically elected worker representatives are in place to cover 100% of the factories it works with in Bangladesh.