Up to 200,000 garment factory workers sustained a third day of protests in Bangladesh on Monday, forcing hundreds of factories to close as the workers' call for a better minimum wage was met with teargas and rubber bullets from police.
Protests were held in the capital of Dhaka and surrounding areas, home to hundreds of factories that produce clothing that ends up stores like Walmart and H&M.
At least two factories were set ablaze by protesters, Reaz-Bin-Mahmood, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Agence France-Presse. The protesting workers also blocked roads and confiscated and destroyed rifles from security officials.
Resulting clashes with police left nearly 150 injured.
The workers, 80% of whom are women, have demanded a $100 monthly wage for their contributions to the $20-billion industry, and called the factory owners' offer of just a 20% raise "inhuman and humiliating." Their current monthly wage is $38, prompting one protester to say, "We work to survive but we can't even cover our basic needs."
When the protests began this weekend, Nazma Akter, president of the United Garments Workers' Federation, told the crowd, "Our backs are against the wall, so we don't have any alternative unless we raise our voice strongly," and added that "the economy moves with our toil."
Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh, lamented that “A one-day closure means a huge loss for owners.”
Agence France-Presse reports that
Bangladeshi textile workers are among the worst paid in the sector worldwide, and often toil for 80 hours a week in factories which are vulnerable to fires and other accidents.
Protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions are frequent but have gained in intensity since April when a factory complex collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people in one of the world's worst industrial disasters.
Despite the massive death toll from the Rana factory fire in April as well as countless, day to day, potentially lethal incidents at garment factories in the country, little seems to have changed in the working conditions at many factories.
A BBC investigation unveiled a factory where workers are still working 19-hour shifts and are locked in, and deceptive books "hide the truth about working hours from Western retailers."