Dhaka, Garment Workers Wages; 50 cents/hour = High Rates Are Unaffordable For Factory Owners
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In 2013, the national wage in the garment industry in Bangladesh was raised to $68 US dollars per month. Workers had been protesting, hoping for an increase to $100 dollars a month. However, factory owners, who hold significant political power in Bangladesh, argued that they could not afford such high rates. Paying their workers $100 dollars a month, is less than 50 cents per hour, and that is before the workers pay their taxes on it. These low wages make it cheap and affordable for companies such as Walmart and H&M to outsource the work to factories in Bangladesh, and currently as much as 45% of exports from Bangladesh are related to the garment industry. Workers’ low wages create poor working conditions which lead to disasters such as the one at Rana Plaza, where over a thousand people were killed when a factory collapsed. Tragedies like these are a result of low wages and a lack of investment in the needed infrastructure. If you look at the average cost of living in Dhaka, it is abundantly clear that the 68 dollars many garment workers receive, is not even close to enough to support one person, never mind a family.
The Cost of a Bangladeshi Apartment & Utilities:
If you first look at the the average cost of a one bedroom apartment in the middle of Dhaka, it costs $152 dollars per month to rent. The cost for rent on its own is significantly too high for someone working in the garment industry – on its own the rent is more than double what most make, and these prices do not include basic utilities such as electricity, heating, water & garbage disposal. For those utilities, one would have to pay an extra $38 per month, which makes these “basic” utilities unattainable for much of the population. If you think about it, these basic utilities would cost more than half of someone in the garment industry’s entire wage for the month, and therefore they really are not basic utilities in Dhaka at all, but a privilege that not many have access to. There’s 4 public bathrooms in Dhaka, a city of 14.4 million people. This means that there is virtually no access to public facilities, regardless of the fact that running water it is not affordable for many people. This means that there are very few possibilities for sanitary living conditions.
Bangladesh Rural Living Costs:
Now, if someone wanted to pay less for rent on their apartment, they could look outside of the city centre, which would drastically lower the price of the one bedroom apartment to only approximately $90 dollars per month, plus the $38 dollars for utilities, which adds up to $128 dollars per month. This, unfortunately, is still far out of reach of those earning only $68 dollars a month. However, living outside the city centre likely means that everyday they would require some sort of transportation in order to get to work. The average cost of a monthly pass for local transport is around $12, and the cost for a taxi everyday, is drastically higher. This added cost means that even living outside the city, would still cost a total of $140, again over double the minimum wage in Dhaka, just for shelter.
Bangladesh Cost of Nutrition:
Furthermore, food costs for a basic diet for a family of 3 was estimated to be about $67 dollars a month according to the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a respected research organization based in Dhaka. This would mean that a mother working in the garment industry with 2 children would be forced to spend her entire salary on food to provide her and her family the proper nourishment they need. However, food is a very important part of the culture, and rice is eaten in most meals which is often available at a low cost, which is why they are able to live off a month of food for a relatively low cost. It is expensive enough, however, that it often becomes a matter of having to prioritizing food over something like rent for a proper home.
Bangladesh Clothing Costs:
Ironically, clothing costs are actually quite similar to something we might find here in North America. So these workers that are being paid cents to make the clothing, are forced to buy the clothing at sometimes more than a 100 times the cost that they were paid for making it themselves. For example, to buy a pair of basic jeans in Dhaka, from a brand such as Levi’s, is about $30 when someone working in the garment industry was likely paid less than 30 cents for making them. The price is almost the exact same as you could find here, the only difference is that the minimum wage in Canada or the United States is, significantly, over a thousand dollars per month – compared to the 68 dollars that someone in Bangladesh receives. The inflation rate of clothing, even in a country as poor as this, is ridiculous. With such low living wages, these clothes do not present themselves as a viable option.
Bangladesh Education Costs (Lives, not Money):
Although education in Dhaka is free for children between the ages of 6 and 18, it is often not possible for the children of the garment workers to receive a proper education, as the kids are needed to work to help cover the cost of living. This creates a vicious cycle, with children without an education being forced to work alongside their parents in these garment factories for low wages, carrying all of these problems onto the next generation. More than that, because parents can’t afford childcare, young kids are often left alone after school in the streets of Dhaka, which are known to be unsafe.
Bangladesh & Economic Slavery:
This budget does not work. As you can see it is impossible for people to afford all of these things that we would consider basic necessities. Those working in these garment factories are economic slaves, they cannot speak up against the poor wages and conditions, for fear of losing five dollars which could realistically mean the difference between life and death. They are not able to support their families and are forced to chose between such primary things. So what would you do if you were in their shoes, would you share a one bedroom apartment with many other families, would you give up proper nutrition, would you force your kids to work alongside you, continuing the cycle? The reality is, for most of the garment workers, these things are not a choice, but a terrible reality that they must face everyday.
For an in depth look, check out “DAY IN A LIFE: A Bangladesh garment worker”. For what the gritty details really are, check out this article by Azad Majumder of Thomson Reuters Foundation News; http://http://news.trust.org//item/20130813111935-9ao2j/