Next Step: Minimum Industry Wage
New protests across Bangladesh are forcing yet more changes. Strikes effectively shut down most of the garment factories for much of last week -- as workers rallied to demand better wages and working conditions.
Days ago Bangladesh officials finally gave in and announced that the minimum wage would be raised for the first time since 2010. Persson, the H&M CEO, also agreed to support an increase in the Bangladesh minimum wage.
These incremental changes are not enough, says Muhammad Yunus, founder of the micro-credit Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who argues that a global approach is needed.
"I propose that foreign buyers jointly fix a minimum international wage for the industry," he wrote in the Guardian recently. "This might be about 50 cents an hour, twice the level typically found in Bangladesh. This minimum wage would be an integral part of reforming the industry, which would help to prevent future tragedies. We have to make international companies understand that while the workers are physically in Bangladesh, they are contributing their labour to the businesses: they are stakeholders. Physical separation should not be grounds to ignore the wellbeing of this labour."
Yunus also suggested raising the final retail price of an item by 50 cents. "Would a consumer in a shopping mall feel upset if they were asked to pay $35.50 instead of $35? My answer is no, they won't even notice," he said.
(Incidentally most U.S. retail chains have not signed on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Instead, following the Rana Plaza collapse, Walmart and other companies announced their own voluntary monitoring systems and safety programs, which some activists say was little more than a public relations campaign. "It's not surprising, and the timing is fishy," said Brian Finnegan, global worker rights coordinator at the AFL-CIO. "The whole point of what we're doing is to make it binding and enforceable.")