Population and Environment
11 December, 2013
The Changing Face of Bangladesh
For this project, I chose to research how the recent, rapid population growth in developing countries has affected the working conditions within those countries, and the jobs available to the people, with a focus on Bangladesh. I chose this subject because I recently completed a project for another class that involved researching labor laws and practices in the garment industry in Bangladesh. While I was conducting this research, I learned of the dramatic population growth there over the past thirty years, as well as the appalling labor violations in the Bangladesh garment industry, which makes up over 80% of the country’s annual exports.
With the garment industry being such a large part of Bangladesh’s economy, I was inclined to believe that the state of the factories and their employees would be an accurate representation of the state of the country as a whole, in terms of living/working conditions. In addition, as urbanization continues to occur, and the garment sector continues to grow, it will gather more and more influence on the state of the nation’s economy.
Figure 1. Bangladesh population. Retrieved from http://www.tradingeconomics.com/bangladesh/population
Ahmed, Akter, and Hossain. (2010). Retrieved November 1, 2013, from
This study provides an overview of the current labor practices in the garment manufacturing and construction industries in Bangladesh. “The overall objective of this study then is to propose reform in the labor law for the promotion of decent work, reducing poverty and ensuring workers’ protection.” This source details discrepancy between the current Bangladesh labor laws, and how Bangladeshi workers are actually treated by their employers, according to studies and surveys conducted in country.
Hossain, Ahmed, and Akter explain Bangladesh’s labor laws, as of 2010. These laws include, but are not limited to, a set maximum number of hours to be worked weekly and daily, minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, physical safety provisions, and several clauses meant to create and preserve easier, safer ways for employees to create or join unions.
This aids in answering my questions through pointing out the shortfalls of Bangladeshi labor laws and regulations, and how these affect the people employed there. It implies that, despite how much the garment industry in Bangladesh is flourishing, due to the large amount of human capital there, the country is seriously struggling to keep up with the developed world in terms of human/workers rights. It shows that while, in theory, Bangladesh has the same working standards as more developed nations, they are either unable or unwilling to make the adjustments needed to actually put these standards into practice.
Bangladesh: amended labor law falls short. (2013). Retrieved November 2, 2013
This article insinuates that the Bangladeshi government has no intention of upholding their recently updated list of labor laws, but that, instead, they were adjusted only to distract from the recent not-so-natural disasters. It also states that the new laws are still not up to par with international standards. In July of 2013, the Bangladeshi parliament made their most recent revisions to the country’s labor laws, in reaction to the Rana plaza factory collapse in the capitol city of Dhaka that occurred in April. The collapse killed over 1,000 people, injuring many more. According to Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of the Human Rights Watch,
The Bangladesh government desperately wants to move the spotlight away from the Rana Plaza disaster, so it’s not surprising it now is trying to show that it belatedly cares about workers’ rights. This would be good news if the new law fully met international standards, but the sad reality is that the government has consciously limited basic workers’ rights while exposing workers to continued risks and exploitation.
This aids in answering my questions through its’ argument that the Bangladeshi government is just putting on an act, in an effort to impress and satisfy their more developed allied nations. Despite its’ recent economic growth, Bangladesh still does not seem to have the resources to pass on to the lowlier citizens, through a serious update in the way factories and other places of work are run.
Greenhouse, S. (2013). Retrieved October 30, 2013, from
This article briefly discusses the new labor laws put in place in Bangladesh,
following the Rana Plaza collapse. These laws were adopted just a few weeks after the U.S. temporarily suspended trade privileges with Bangladesh. Lawmakers claim that the new regulations exist to protect workers’ rights, but rights groups disagree, saying the new laws do little for the workers’ protection, and reverse some of the progress that has recently been made on the behalf of unions. However, Bangladeshi chairman of the parliamentary subcommittee on labor reform, Khandaker Mosharraf, told Reuters: “The aim was to ensure workers’ rights are strengthened, and we have done that. I am hoping this will assuage global fears around this issue.” Unfortunately, one of the biggest provisions of the new set of laws – one that will set aside 5% of all factory profits for a welfare fund for their employees – also provides exemption for export-oriented factories. The trouble is, in Bangladesh’s developing economy, most factories are export-oriented.
The information in this article is helpful because it sheds some light on the union situation in Bangladesh. As doors are being opened for the massive workforce of Bangladesh, through the empowering of unions, business owners are struggling to keep their factories running smoothly, and doing what they can to discourage unionization. Short term, it makes sense for employers to keep their workers from doing anything that could potentially cost their businesses time or money, and it makes sense for the country’s economy, as a whole. If the garment industry makes up approximately 80% of Bangladesh’s total exports, and this industry is able to cut costs by treating workers poorly, then that will allow garment contractors and factories to make more money, boosting the export economy. However, the long-term consequences of these tactics are most definitely negative. If things continue as they are now, the Bangladeshi citizens will continue to just barely scrape by, foregoing education in light of more pressing needs (i.e. food, shelter, water), and the country will develop at a much slower pace than is possible.
War on want. (2009). Retrieved November 1, 2013, from
This article directly addresses the ways in which labor laws are being broken in Bangladesh, as well as the major downfalls of the existing codes. It lays open the true shortfalls of the Bangladesh manufacturing industry- particularly the garment export industry, which makes up over 80% of the country’s exports. In addition, it also brings to light the measures being taken by Bangladeshi workers to fight for safe and humane working conditions for themselves and their fellow laborers. The current minimum wage in Bangladesh is valued at less than half of the working wage. The story of Arifa, a factory worker, is not an unusual one. “I earn Tk 2,200 per month, with overtime [app. $28.28, U.S]”, she told reporters. “But rent, health expenses, and food for my family costs me around Tk 5,000. My older brother sends money from abroad to help make up the difference, but what will happen if he can no longer afford to help us?”
This article from War on Want also includes information about the National Garment Workers’ Federation (NGWF), which is a trade union in Bangladesh, composed of over 22,000 members, which fights for workers’ rights and safety. This union is a major way for employees of the Bangladeshi garment industry to make themselves heard. Some of their major objectives are to reconvene the Wage Board, taking another look at how minimum wage is decided, and giving trade unions and civil society organizations a part in that decision-making process; advocating for gender equality and women’s rights in the workplace; and revising the law so that trade unions have more strength.
This information is useful because it highlights the areas in which the people of Bangladesh are working to create a better working society for themselves, and the generations to come. The work of trade unions and their advocates during the American Industrial Revolution was what eventually forced both employers and the government to create and enforce laws and regulations to improve upon working conditions in the factories, and I believe we are already beginning to see the same kinds of actions being taken in Bangladesh. This raises and interesting question: Will Bangladesh forever be at or near the bottom of the totem pole, or will they continue to climb, through a combination of their own economic growth and the ebb and flow of power and affluence in other countries?
War on want. (2013). Retrieved November 1, 2013, from
This article focuses on the National Garment Workers’ Foundation (NGWF), which is a trade union federation of Bangladeshi garment workers, over 22,000-strong, who advocate for better working conditions, wages, etc. The NGWF was started in 1984, and is the largest trade union in Bangladesh’s garment sector.
In Bangladesh, 3.5 million workers in 4,825 garment factories produce goods for export to the global market, principally Europe and North America. The Bangladeshi garment industry generates 80% of the country’s total export revenue. However, the wealth generated by this sector has led to few improvements in the lives of garment workers, 85% of whom are women.
Figure 2. Bangladesh factory.
Despite various recent attempts to improve the conditions in factories across the
country, workers in the industry are still commonly forced to labor for 14-16 hours per day, seven days per week, with no overtime pay. In addition, working spaces are cramped and hazardous, and have caused over 400 deaths since 1990, from factory fires alone. Women in these workplaces face even greater danger, from sexual harassment and discrimination, and the refusal of employers to grant maternity leave, even though the law dictates their entitlement to this privilege.
This article sheds further light on the largest garment workers’ trade union in the country of Bangladesh, showing a bit of the history behind the union, and the growth they have experienced over the last (nearly) thirty years. This information is interesting because it shows not only the struggles of workers in the industry, but also the work that is being done to change current practices, which is important when looking at the current growth of the nation, and contemplating future projections.
Fleischer, A. (2011). Retrieved December 7, 2013, from
This article covers many different aspects of the demographic change that have
occurred in Bangladesh over the past several years. It includes statistics about population growth, urbanization, ageing, disease, socio-economic changes, and regional disparities, to name a few. Bangladesh has the highest population density in the world, and it will continue to grow substantially, as the land area continues to shrink due to climate change and its’ low elevation. In addition, Bangladesh is experiences very rapid urbanization, with a population density of 2500,000/square km. The capitol city, Dhaka, is the fastest growing city in Asia. Furthermore, “socio-economic improvements have resulted in strong gains in life expectancy. This, together with the sharp reduction in fertility, changes the shape of the demographic pyramid drastically, which has numerous repercussions on the society.”
As more people flock to the cities of Bangladesh, looking for work, the garment industry—the largest export industry in the country—will be waiting, ready to put the influx in population to work. The larger the industry grows, the more affect it will have on the economic and social development of Bangladesh. And the more unsatisfied employees the industry has, the more volatile the situation will become, creating the potential for danger and destruction, as well as the potential for development and progress in the arena of workers’ rights.
BBC (2013). Retrieved December 12, 2013, from
The BBC updates readers on the 77% rise in wages for garment workers that the people of Bangladesh are seeking. Throughout October and November of 2013, workers were becoming more vocal in their complaints, and taking action for change, through a series of several strikes. If the change occurs, minimum wage would be raised to Tk 5,300, which amounts to approximately $68 U.S. per month. The proposed minimum wage is still considerably less than workers first demanded (over 8,000 Tk/month), but the board took into consideration both the needs of workers and employees when deciding upon this amount, and is now waiting for the Ministry of Labour and Employment to approve the new wage.
If this new minimum wage is approved, it will allow garment workers to provide for their families’ most basic needs, which is a step in the right direction. Once the majority of people in Bangladesh are able to provide for themselves and their families, other, more advanced needs will come to the surface—such as higher education. If the country, as a whole, is able to improve their literacy rate from the current 47-53% (depending on the source), and encourage young people to pursue an education above the average junior high level, the country will be able to progress much more rapidly, in terms of technological and economical change.
Whether it is the urbanization in Bangladesh that is leading to the growth of the garment industry, or the growth of the industry that is contributing to the country’s urbanization, the two are inarguably tied. And with the percentage of Bangladesh’s exports that are made up of textile and apparel goods, it is also impossible to separate the country’s development from the development of the industry. So, if the people who work in these factories, day in and day out, suffer from poor working and living conditions, then the state of the country is going to reflect that, and growth (economic, societal, and technological) will be stunted. However, if employers/contractors/business owners begin to take labor laws and codes of conduct seriously, and employees continue to fight for their rights, then the state of the nation will improve much more quickly.
Developed countries are not entirely devoid of sub-par labor conditions, sweatshops, or forced labor. Nevertheless, these struggles are much more rampant in developing or newly developing nations, where the infrastructure and funding needed to create safe, flourishing work environments is lacking.
All of this research spurs me onto wonder: is Bangladesh’s situation really all that unexpected, or unique? From what I know of the state of the economies and working conditions of developing nations, as well as the histories of developed ones, time spent struggling through changing ideas of humane and just worker treatment is just another part of the climb to a flourishing, developed society. So, while it is important to advocate for the lives of the mistreated and abused, the stories of currently developing nations, in terms of workers’ rights and safety concerns, are not all that different from where our very own United States was, during the budding industrial revolution. And just as we came out all right on the other side, after a lot of hard work, so will the people of Bangladesh, as long as they continue to fight.