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Economy

Over 100 Bangladesh garment plants halt operations in strike

Wage woes stir outcry at world's No. 2 exporter, in blow to H&M

Garment factory workers took to Dhaka's streets for a fifth straight day on Thursday to protest unfair pay practices.
Garment factory workers took to Dhaka's streets for a fifth straight day on Jan. 10 to protest pay practices.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- Strikes at garment factories around the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka stretched into a fifth day Thursday, disrupting output for brands like H&M in the world's second-largest apparel exporter behind China.

Thousands of workers are protesting a government minimum-wage hike widely viewed as unfair. At least 100 sewn-goods factories had halted operations as of Wednesday. One person has been killed and over 70 injured in clashes with police as some demonstrations turned violent.

A factory that makes garments for Sweden's H&M Hennes & Mauritz joined those stopping production Wednesday, an official at a Dhaka labor union told Nikkei. Japan's Fast Retailing, which operates the Uniqlo casual clothing brand, said no noteworthy strikes were taking place at facilities producing its apparel.

Last month, the government of recently re-elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina enacted the national garment industry's first minimum-wage hike in five years, lifting monthly pay 51% to 8,000 Bangladeshi taka ($96). But workers were frustrated, saying the change benefits only a limited segment of employees.

Bangladesh exports $30 billion worth of ready-made garments yearly for global apparel companies, forming just over 80% of the country's exports by value.

But apparel companies have pressed for stronger safety checks since a building that housed garment factories collapsed in 2013, killing over 1,000 people. "Profits are plummeting" as a result, a factory manager said.

The government continued discussions with management and union representatives Thursday, aiming to end the strikes Friday or Saturday. But resolving the dispute by raising wages further would worsen profitability for the factories, potentially affecting global procurement strategies for apparel makers.

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