Sunday, 26 May 2013

Slave Labor, Wal-Mart and Wahhabism: Bangladesh in turbulence

The Bangladeshi elite are facing tough decisions in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory to curb the rampant abuse of the work force. Support for the government has been weakening and there has been a disturbing rise in radical Islam. The streets of Dhaka have been awash with protests, violence, and killing in recent times as the Bangladeshi public expresses its resentment to the exploitation of garment workers in the aftermath of the country’s worst industrial disaster in its history, and the rising tide of Islamists demanding an end to the nation’s secular identity. The public relations departments of major retail transnationals like H&M, Gap, Wal-Mart, and Benetton have been in full defensive mode following the late-April collapse of Rana Plaza, a shoddily constructed building where sweatshop laborers toiled producing all the latest western fashions for export. The collapse took the lives of a shocking 1,127 workers, and still, Wal-Mart and Gap remain opposed to introducing broad agreements that would improve fire and safety regulations in factories, in fear of becoming entangled in legal liabilities; some corporations have refused to pay direct compensation to family members of the victims. Cost-benefit analysis yielded few benefits for the dead, unsurprisingly.

Tens of thousands of protesting Bangladeshi garment workers attempted to make their voices heard in the Ashulia industrial belt on the outskirts of the capital; worker demands for a fairer wage and safe working conditions were met with rubber bullets, stoking opposition and resentment against the ruling Awami League party, which is increasingly seen as a kleptocratic purveyor of the ‘Poverty Industrial Complex’ that promotes retail multinationals setting up shop in the dusty slums of Dhaka. Most garment workers make a miserable $38 per month, hourly wages between 17 and 26 cents. Anyone who has browsed the hangers of H&M or Benetton knows that a single piece of merchandise can pay the monthly wage of a Bangladeshi worker two or three times over. Behind the slick marketing campaigns of these retail giants, and the well-oiled cleavage and abdomens on their billboards, it is impoverished people that bear the burden of vapid consumerism and globalization.

Read the full story on

Nile Bowie is a Malaysia-based political analyst and a columnist with Russia Today. He also contributes to PressTV, Global Research, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at