Since the 1980s, starting as a response to adjust the economy and resolve the balance of payment deficit; export oriented readymade garment industries have been growing fast. The processes of underdevelopment, coupled with the failure to constitute a democratic state, contributed to the rapid pauperization of the rural areas, releasing cheap labour and forcing people – mainly young girls in their teens – to leave their localities and homes in search of a livelihood to survive. The social and economic atmosphere created conditions to coerce them into work places with meager wages and unsafe working conditions. At present, about 40 hundred thousand people work for almost 4700 industries, where at least 80% of workers are women. It is still debatable as to what extent Bangladesh workers gained in social and developmental terms, from the implementation of an economic model that is basically built on the exploitation of the population, particularly of young women. By this, much foreign remittance is earned that keeps Bangladesh’s economy stable. The remittance received is around 20 billion US Dollars per year.
Labour is cheap in Bangladesh, attracting buyers/investors from all over the world, taking advantage of the cheap cost of production. The industry owners often violate the workers human rights. According to the Minimum Wage Board 2010, the average wage is Taka 3000/- which is comparatively, extremely low. Moreover, it is a regular practice of owners to dismiss workers from their jobs, in contravention to labour laws. Due to the lack of security in the garment industries, the workers are often victimised. For example, although the public sector workers are entitled to enjoy six months (24 weeks) maternity leave, the BGMEA introduced 16 weeks of maternity leave for female workers in the garment factories, even after the Labour Ministry’s suggestion to amend the Section 46 of the Labour Act, 2006. Workers are also not allowed to form trade unions as prohibited by the owners of the garment industries. Apart from exploitation in the hands of factory owners and managers; police, industrial police and other organs of the government forcefully bar the workers from raising any protest against poor working conditions. The government always seems to be taking the owners side. The latest installment of human tragedy in the garments sector is the collapse of the building ‘Rana Plaza’ in Savar, Dhaka, on 24th April 2013.