Swedish Retailer H&M Urges Higher Wages for Bangladeshi Workers

Posted September 5th, 2012 at 5:30 am (UTC-5)
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Swedish clothing retailer H&M is urging Bangladesh's government to raise textile workers' minimum wage.

H&M said Wednesday that its CEO, Karl-Johan Persson, made the request during a meeting with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka earlier this week.

The fashion giant says it is urging Bangladesh to consider an annual review of the local minimum wage that takes inflation and the consumer price index into consideration. H&M says the South Asian country's national minimum wage has only been revised twice since it was first set in 1994.

Bangladesh's garment industry is among the biggest and most competitive in the world, largely because the labor costs are very low. The average monthly wage of a garment worker is roughly $45, less than half of that paid in countries like China and India.

Angry garment workers took to the streets earlier this year demanding higher wages, temporarily shutting down several factories.

H&M CEO Persson said Wednesday, “we believe that it is in the interest of the Bangladeshi textile industry, as well as in our interest, that the industry continues to develop into an advanced and mature textile industry.” He added, “stable markets in which people are treated with respect, and where the workers are properly compensated by their employers, are of the utmost importance.”

Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have called on Bangladesh to address labor issues, including worker safety, excessive hours, the right to organize, and obtaining the minimum wage. The group also says government harassment of labor leaders is continuing.

H&M has 2,600 clothing stores in 44 markets. The retailer is one of several major Western brands that buys products from Bangladesh. The Swedish company said Wednesday it does not own any factories in the country, or make decisions on wages, but “has a responsibility towards everyone contributing to the success.”