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Bangladesh Garment Workers Stage Fresh Protests After Two Deaths

Bangladesh garment workers took to the streets today in the Ashulia industrial zone outside of the capital Dhaka, protesting the second-lowest wages in Asia, after another demonstration yesterday left at least two dead.

Hundreds of workers demanded a higher monthly salary of 8,000 taka ($103) today and the protests forced 50 clothing factories to suspend production, Abdus Sattar Miah, a spokesman of Industrial Police, said over the phone. A group of plant owners held a meeting with the home ministry seeking help to control the labor unrest, said Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of Exporters Association of Bangladesh.

“We are very frustrated,” Murshedy said. “It seems that we have to fold our business, hand over the factory keys to the government and go home.”

Unsafe factories and wages higher than only Myanmar in Asia have sparked labor tensions in Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry, which supplies global retailers from Hennes & Mauritz AB to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. with cheap apparel. Thousands of workers walked out of factories and clashed with the police yesterday in the industrial zone of Gazipur, leaving two dead, 30 people injured and forcing the shutdown of 100 plants, according to Mohammad Abdul Barek, an assistant sub-inspector of police.

One of the deceased in yesterday’s protests had bullet wounds, said Zahidur Rahman, a spokesman for Enam Medical College and Hospital in Savar, Bangladesh. The government last week increased the minimum wage to 5,300 taka, below the amount unions are demanding.

The demonstrations follow last week’s labor unrest that shut about 250 factories in the industrial zone of Ashulia. The South Asian nation has struggled to rebuild its image after the April collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex killed more than 1,100 people in the country’s worst industrial disaster.

International Pressure

The two who died in the industrial zone outside the capital Dhaka were workers, said Barek, the assistant sub-inspector of police, without providing details on the cause of the deaths. The nation’s top-selling newspaper Prothom Alo identified the workers as Badsha Miah, 25, and Ruma Akter, 22.

International retailers have been under pressure to improve conditions across the country’s apparel industry. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has posted online the names and safety assessments of 75 factories in the South Asian country. About 10 of them failed their initial assessments and improved their scores by follow-up inspections, Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said.

Two facilities didn’t meet standards during follow-up assessments and Wal-Mart no longer will use those locations, he said.

In September, thousands of demonstrators demanding higher wages forced the closure of 400 of the country’s 5,000 clothing factories. Monthly manufacturing wages in Bangladesh average $74, only higher than the $53 workers receive in Myanmar, according to an Asia survey by the Japan External Trade Organization released in December.

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