- - Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DHAKA, Bangladesh | Garment manufacturers in Bangladesh said they would reopen all factories closed Tuesday in the country’s major industrial hub after authorities pledged to protect key plants from protests.

Tens of thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers, employees at some 700 factories that supply top names in Western retail, have been on strike since Saturday, demanding higher pay and forcing the closure of those some 700 factories.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), which represents factory owners, said the factories would be reopened Wednesday after a government pledge to put down the protests.

“We have been assured by the government that they would ensure adequate security to protect the factories from vandalism so we will reopen Wednesday morning,” BGMEA President Abdus Salam Murshedy told Agence France-Presse.


A “crisis prevention committee” led by a local member of parliament has been established in a bid to bring stability to the key industrial area hit by days of violent workers’ protests, he said.

The government also has “identified the culprits” who ransacked the factories, leading to closure of the plants, he added. “We hope they will be brought to account,” he said.

The decision marked a dramatic about-face by factory owners, who earlier Tuesday declared that all factories in the affected area — Ashulia, which makes clothing for global retailers like Wal-Mart, Tesco, H&M and Carrefour — would be closed indefinitely.

About 800,000 workers are employed in the 700 factories in the area and “tens of thousands” have taken their grievances to the streets, forcing the shuttering of businesses, Dhaka’s Deputy Police Chief Monowar Hossain told AFP.

“We’ve stepped up security, brought in reinforcements but the problem is there are too many protesting workers,” Chief Hossain said.

The workers are demanding wages of at least $70 dollars per month. The current minimum wage, set in 2006, is just $25.

BGMEA Vice President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said more than 50 factories have been vandalized by protesters, making it impossible for manufacturers to meet buyer deadlines and leading to millions of dollars of losses.

“We cannot run our factories — our security is inadequate to protect us from the rampaging protesters. Our survival is at stake,” he said, adding that the unrest threatened the country’s reputation as a garment producer.

Garments accounted for nearly 80 percent of Bangladesh’s $15.56 billion of exports last year. The factories employ about 40 percent of the industrial work force.