Tuba Group factory workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, stood up against
exploitation in the summer of 2014. The company, in which five factories
made products for businesses like Walmart and H&M, had become
notorious in recent years for some of the lowest employee wages in the
world (about US $38 a month) and the 2012 “Tarzeen factory fire” that
killed 112 workers. Since February of 2014, Delwar Hossain, the owner of
the group, had been in jail for the workplace negligence that lead to
the tragedy. However, workers continued to face unfair treatment.
Bangladesh, located to the east of India, is a leading global garment manufacturer, producing clothing for such American companies as Gap, Walmart, and J.C. Penney. The Ready Made Garment (RMG) industry makes up 80% of the country’s exports and employs about 4 million Bangladeshis, 80% of whom are women. A survey published by the Japan External Trade Organization in December 2013 reported that Bangladesh garment workers earn nearly the lowest monthly wage in the world, second only to Myanmar.
The garment industry has been a backbone of Bangladesh’s economy. In 2012 Bangladesh had more than 4,000 garment industry factories making clothes for major Western brands such as Walmart and Zara. The garment industry earned the country $12 billion a year – nearly 80% of the country’s total exports.
After becoming independent from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh had a long history of military rule. Its first two leaders, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman were both assassinated in military coups and their regimes were followed by military dictatorships. The two main Bangladeshi political parties, the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) were formed by these two leaders and later led by their daughter and widow respectively – Hasina Wajed and Khaleda Zia. In 1982, General Hussain Muhammed Ershad seized power in Bangladesh during a bloodless coup.
The Pakistan that gained independence from the British Empire in 1947 was a strange and ultimately ill-fated state. The country included two geographically disparate regions, West and East Pakistan (modern-day Bangladesh), separated by nearly one thousand miles of Indian territory. Throughout the military regimes of the 1950s and 60s, Bengali needs were neglected to benefit the “22 families,” all West Pakistani, who controlled the country’s economy. A movement for East Pakistani autonomy emerged from this climate, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (known popularly as Mujib).&nb
Historically, hartals have been a common form of resistance in Bangladesh, although there was a three-year period without hartals from 2007-2010. On May 19, 2010, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main Bangladeshi opposition party, held a rally, where party leader Khaleda Zia announced a nationwide hartal for June 27, in opposition to the Awami League, the ruling party. She also announced that there would be many sit-ins and rallies nationwide leading up to the hartal.