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Bangladeshi garment factories reopen after 4-day shutdown

Several hundred garment factories near the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, reopened Friday after a four-day shutdown caused by worker protests over pay and working conditions.

Factories near capital were closed after worker protests over safety, wages

A worker sews inside a garment factory in Ashulia near the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. About 300 factories in the garment district reopened Friday after a four-day shutdown caused by worker protests over unsafe working conditions and low wages. (Palash Khan/Reuters)

Several hundred garment factories near the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, reopened Friday after a four-day shutdown caused by worker protests over pay and working conditions.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association shut down factories in the Ashulia district after workers angry over recent deadly incidents highlighting unsafe working conditions in the country's booming garment industry walked off the job and launched a series of protests.

The unrest was in reaction to the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in the nearby Savar region in April that killed more than 1,100 people and fueled anger around the world. The site housed several factories that make clothes for some of the largest Western fashion retailers.

Government changed union rules

In response to the widespread anger over the incident, the government approved changes that will allow workers to form unions without having to get approval from their employers. It also agreed to assemble a wage board that will oversee pay increases for garment workers.

Several of the retailers whose clothing is made in Bangladeshi factories have also signed on to a safety pact in which they agreed to help pay for safety upgrades and factory repairs and adhere to workplace best practices.

Similar worker protests in 2010 brought about wage increases, but the Reuters news agency reported that the monthly minimum wage in the garment industry in Bangladesh is still only equivalent to $38 US and remains among the lowest in the world.

Bangladesh is one of the biggest clothing exporters in the world, with about 5,000 factories and 3.6 million people — primarily women — employed in the industry, according to the country's Board of Investment. The textiles and clothing industry is worth about $20 billion US, with ready-made garments like T-shirts, pants and jackets accounting for more than three-quarters of Bangladesh's total export earnings.

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