BBC World Service

In Bangladesh, workers react and protest

Sanjoy Majumder May 13, 2013
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BBC World Service

In Bangladesh, workers react and protest

Sanjoy Majumder May 13, 2013
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Major retailers have two days left to sign onto a legally binding agreement to improve factory conditions in Bangladesh and a good number of them already have.

Whatever American companies decide to do, the government of Bangladesh has some big decisions to make.

Today, the cabinet made it easier for garment workers to join trade unions. No small thing in a country where textiles account for 80 percent of the exports.

The government of Bangladesh is “caught between two stools,” says the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Dhaka. (That’s his way of saying between a rock and a hard place.)

“They’re trying to do two things at once,” Majumder says. “They’re trying to show everyone that they care and they’re going to bring in steps that are needed but at the same time, they’re going to do everything they can to protect the industry.”

The government’s fierce protection of the garment industry has created a lot of skepticism among regular Bangladeshis.

“The overwhelming sentiment on the streets here is that not much is going to change,” Majumder says.

Why? Many of the country’s politicians have close ties to factories and have found wealth in the textile system.

“The first thing that strikes you is just how helpless a lot of people are, which is quite tragic given how many people around the world are linked to this entire industry,” Majumder says.

The story is not all downtrodden. Workers have become more vocal and sometimes violent in their protests against the lack of protections in factories, he says.

“The people they have in their sights are the factory owners…for most Bangladeshis, those are the bad guys.”

Half a world away, the discord is hidden from Western consumers. Many don’t even realize the human cost behind the items they buy, inexpensively, from large clothing retailers.

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