Is Bangladesh's deadly building collapse already leading to reform?

The government promises to hike the minimum wage and make it easier for garment workers to unionize

Workers at a garment factory protest
(Image credit: AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Bangladesh's government decided Monday to let garment workers unionize without their employers' permission. The reform is one of many the South Asian leaders have promised as they face a global outcry over factory conditions following the April collapse of an eight-story manufacturing complex, which killed more than 1,100 people. The government also said over the weekend that it would raise its minimum wage — which, at $37 per month, is among the lowest in the world. In another sign demands for reform are paying off, retailing giant H&M — the largest purchaser of garments from Bangladesh — agreed to sign a retailers' pact to help finance factory fire- and building-safety improvements.

That's a start, but not everyone has faith the Bangladeshi government will follow through with its pledge to improve the lives of the people who supply the labor for its $19 billion-a-year garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of the country's exports. In addition to wages and unionization, the government temporarily shut 18 unsafe factories last week. It also vowed to inspect thousands more, and hire 200 occupational safety inspectors by year's end. Unfortunately, says The New York Times in an editorial, nothing the government has said or done so far guarantees conditions will improve.

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Harold Maass, The Week US

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at The Week. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 debut of the U.S. print edition and served as editor of when it launched in 2008. Harold started his career as a newspaper reporter in South Florida and Haiti. He has previously worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, ABC News and Fox News, and for several years wrote a daily roundup of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance.