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Ongoing protests force Bangladesh factory closures

More than 350 close in Dhaka: major retailers affected

Ongoing protests force Bangladesh factory closures

Workers protest in Dhaka reporter, Dhaka

May 14, 2013

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Hundreds of garment factories in Dhaka’s main industrial zone have been closed indefinitely, as protests over the Rana Plaza building collapse in April, which killed more than 1,100 people, increase tension between the government and labor rights activists.

The impact of several weeks of unrest has been felt by the majority of business owners in the Ashulia zone, where around 350 factories operate. Clothes made there carry popular international labels, including Wal Mart, C&A, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger and Gap.

“Since the Rana Plaza accident, 80 to 90 percent of owners were unable to run their factories and many workers didn’t carry out their duties,” Atiqul Islam, president of the country’s main industrial body, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said at a press conference in Dhaka on Monday. “Owners are counting heavy losses and feeling insecure about their investment.”

The protests on Monday turned violent when news spread of the mysterious death of a female worker in a factory. Protesters blocked roads, damaged vehicles and clashed with police, leaving dozens hurt.

Bangladeshi labor laws state that workers will not get salaries while the factory suspension is in place. Atiqul Islam claimed that a “vested quarter” was trying to destabilize the industry, and that the factories would reopen “when the situation is favorable.”

The decision to close factories has furthered inflamed the protests. Nazma Akter, a Dhaka-based labor leader, alleged that employers are playing an “old and unjust trick” to punish workers. “Workers were protesting for their rights and nothing serious enough happened that all the factories should be shut down. It’s nothing but wielding the weapon to stop the workers’ voice,” he said.

The Rana Plaza building collapse was the worst industrial disaster in Bangladesh’s history, with 1,127 bodies so far pulled from the ruins. The incident has brought to the fore issues of endemic corruption and weak workplace safety regulations in Bangladesh. Wages there are among the lowest in the world, beginning at around $37 a month.

On Monday, several major clothing brands, including H&M, Primark and Tesco, agreed to help pay for building improvements in factories in Dhaka.

In a safety drive the government has completed inspecting over 4,000 factories across the country. More than 940 were labeled risky, and 24 were closed down after failing to meet safety standards.

Bangladeshi Textiles Minister Latif Ahmed Siddique said on Sunday that the government was setting up a separate 'Wage Board' to raise the salary for garment workers.

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