Garment Worker Riots in Bangladesh Continue After 4 Killed

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Bangladeshi garment workers light fires during violent protests in Chittagong on December 12, 2010.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of workers in Bangladesh’s sprawling garment industry continued to protest on Monday over the low wages they’re paid to make clothing for export, including to Western companies like H&M, Zara, JCPenney and Walmart.

On Sunday, four people were killed as protesters clashed with police, and riots broke out in northern Gazipur, one of the industry’s hubs, near Dhaka. The workers have blocked key roads, effectively paralyzing the industry.

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The protests started on Friday, sparked by some of Bangladesh’s 4500 apparel factories to fail to observe a recent pay hike that the government promised the nation’s over three million garment workers, 80% of whom are women. Under that scheme, the workers’ minimum wage would be lifted to about $43 a month  — an 80% increase over 2006 wages, but still well under the poverty line and what many workers had been demanding.

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The new wage raise was supposed to go into effect in November, but labor groups say nothing has changed. The government, for its part, hasn’t exactly stood behind the group of workers responsible for 80% of the south Asian nation’s exports; Sahara Kahtoon, the country’s home minister, was quoted in Al Jazeera saying that the protests were part of a conspiracy to destabilize the nation’s export sector: “We will find out the conspirators and give them exemplary punishment.” (via AFP)