Workers making H&M clothes in Bangladesh punished for demanding higher wages

Peaceful protests against the new minimum wage in Bangladesh were met with the worst repression in the country in decades. Multiple factories involved in the repression are known to be producing for H&M. The fast fashion giant has not done anywhere near enough to address the low wage levels in the first place, and now, to respond to the repression.

Garment workers in Bangladesh have long been paid some of the lowest wages in the world, and the long-awaited minimum wage revision in 2018 did little to change that.

When a new a new minimum wage was announced, it amounted to only half of what workers and their unions had asked for. Workers’ voices were largely ignored during the lengthy and overall problematic process. Despite the climate of fear workers then took to the streets to express their demand for a higher wage.

The police repressed the demonstrations violently, using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons. They injured over fifty people and killed one. The government then announced minimal wage increases, and workers were urged to return to work on 14 January.

The dismissals begun the very next day. Eventually up to 11,600 workers were dismissed, in what Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) calls the most extensive repression they have seen in over two decades of working in the country (see the “Banning Hope” report).

Factory managers fired workers en masse, without even trying to credibly demonstrate that they had done anything wrong. WRC calls this a form of “collective punishment”. Many workers also face legal charges on similarly arbitrary grounds.

Eleven factories involved in the repression are known to be producing for H&M. Workers in these factories were demonstrating for living wages, which is something that many of them were promised over five years ago.

Instead of a living wage, workers face job loss or legal charges. In the 11 factories combined over 2,000 workers have been dismissed and almost 1,000 face charges.

During an earlier crackdown related to wage protests H&M was among the more active brands in addressing the repression in its supply chain, but the response to the latest wave of repression has thus far been disappointing.

At the time of writing, H&M has not done any of the three main things we have been asking brands to do: They have not required reinstatement or compensation from suppliers. They have not required that suppliers withdraw charges related to the protests. And they have not expressed concern to the government and requested the dismissal of all charges.

You can check whether this has changed, and what other brands are doing to respond to the crackdown on this website.